Employees of two Thomas Cook travel agency offices in Dublin, Ireland have occupied their offices in response to management’s announcement of earlier closure dates for the sites. On Friday, July 31, 40 employees at the Thomas Cook store in Grafton Street began an occupation protest after the sudden announcement of the store’s immediate closure; workers at the store had previously been told, when the closures were announced on May 12, that the businesses would remain open until September 6.
We were not in any position to consult with senior managers who had their own hidden agendaPauline McManigan, Direct Holidays employee
Before the occupations began, workers at Thomas Cook’s locations, who are members of trade union the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) had voted unanimously to strike, alleging that the closures were being done without sufficient consultation of staff by Thomas Cook management. Caroline Cullen, accounts assistant and TSSA staff representative at the Grafton Street location, characterises the behaviour of Thomas Cook management as “intimidation”.
When the consultation period had finished, she said, Thomas Cook management sent Simon Robinson, an executive director of the company, and a male colleague of his to close the office. The presence of the Thomas Cook executives, two high-ranking, business-suited men, in an office where forty-two of forty-four employees are women is itself intimidating, Cullen asserts; she says that Robinson furthermore attempted to “bully” the employees into accepting the five-week redundancy offer by saying that if they did not accept, they would receive only the statutory minimum. “You cannot live on 5 weeks”, says Cullen. “Travel agents are closing every week. There’s a hiring freeze at the banks. There are no jobs out there…We need 8 weeks to live on for the next two years while we look for jobs.” The extra three weeks’ redundancy pay would, she estimates, cost Thomas Cook €400,000.
Thomas Cook has accused the TSSA of making use of “dirty tactics”, according to a statement from Thomas Cook UK & Ireland CEO Pete Constanti. A court order has been delivered to the Grafton Street office requiring the occupiers to turn the keys over to Thomas Cook management. The TSSA, meanwhile, says that Thomas Cook is “riding roughshod over the right to take industrial action by marching staff into a room and telling them they are going to close immediately”.
Cullen says that the occupation began spontaneously. “We didn’t think it would go so far”, she told Wikinews, but when the closure of the office was announced, the staff “opened the windows and started screaming, ‘we’re not moving, we’re not moving’. We haven’t moved since.”
Monday, August 3 is a bank holiday in Ireland. Both sides in the dispute have delivered ultimata: Thomas Cook management demands that all staff return to work on Tuesday morning as usual or else the offer of five weeks’ pay will be reduced to the statutory two week’s pay, while the TSSA says that if Thomas Cook management do not produce a better redundancy offer by Tuesday then the business will face a boycott by the TSSA’s 800,000 members.
Ireland’s Socialist Party and Dublin MEP Joe Higgins have declared their support for the Thomas Cook occupiers, with a press release on Higgins’ official webpage saying
The High Court order for workers to end their occupation and the threat of Garda action is a disgrace….The trade union movement must mobilise to prevent the Gardaí being used against these workers. Supporters and trade union activists should come to the offices to support the workers’ action and defend the occupation against any attempt to force them out.
Socialist Party members have been leafletting Dublin over the weekend promoting demonstrations in support of the Thomas Cook employees. The smaller Socialist Workers Party has also declared its support and conducted demonstrations for the occupiers.