Belfast Airport – shop stewards win legal battle

Six years ago, four shop stewards were sacked from their jobs at Belfast Airport after organising a strike. Finally, after a long and acrimonious legal battle involving hunger strikes and claims of betrayal, it looks like the case could finally have been resolved.

The four shop stewards were sacked from their jobs six years ago when they were targeted as the ringleaders behind a strike which was attempting to get a 50 pence rise in their hourly wage. However, the company which they worked for, the airport security firm ICTS, failed to agree to their demands and fired them instead.

After winning the initial trial, the four staff last week won the appeal, and so the long path to justice is finally at an end. One of the four workers, Gordon McNeill, said: "This judgment is an important victory for the whole trade union movement and a blow to anti trade union, low pay employers like ICTS."

However, another battle has arisen between the staff and Unite, the union whom they claim did not support them through their ordeal. After the recent ruling in their favour, Unite has offered each of them £40,000 in compensation on the guarantee that none of them speaks of the situation again. But Gordon McNeill is determined to expose what went on, especially the circumstances concerning the role of some of the trade union officials.

In April this year, McNeill went on a hunger strike, along with two of the other employees who were sacked, Madan Gupta and Chris Bowyer, in protest at their treatment by Unite. McNeill was taken to hospital during the protest, which only ended when the doctors threatened to force feed him.

However, Unite has expressed dismay at their decision to continue to pursue damages against the union, saying that they have already paid the legal costs of the ICTS trial. They have described the actions of the four staff as nothing more than a “money grab”.

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