Balcas strike action averted …but Encirc row heats up

AS Fermanagh’s first private sector strike in over a decade comes to an end, all eyes are turning to Derrylin where factory staff are considering taking to the picket lines. 
According to the union Unite, workers in the county have been “electrified” and “galvanised” by the stand taken by staff at Balcas last week, who last week downed tools for 48 hours in a demand for fair pay. There had been a potential for the Balcas strike to recommence this week, lasting the whole week, however that was averted after a deal  was struck with the workers. 
Gareth Scott, Unite Regional Officer, said the two year pay deal was worth more than £1,000 a worker in the first year, with guaranteed above-inflation pay increases. Mr Scott said there had been a huge outpouring of support for the Balcas workers, particularly from those in other unionised workplaces, and from independent contractors who refused to deliver to the factory during the strike. 
“The strike action caught the imagination of people across the county and its success will instil confidence that workers can win if they organise,” he said. 
Attention will now be focused on another local Unite workplace, at Encirc in Derrylin, where staff were watching Balcas developments closely. 
Workers at the factory have already rejected a pay deal in a consultative ballot, while their colleagues at the factory’s sister site in Cheshire recently voted to join the Fermanagh staff in a concurrent strike, in a joint-bargaining strategy. 
The Fermanagh workers are now to be balloted on whether they will take full industrial action. 
Speaking last week, Michael Keenan, regional officer with Unite and responsible for the union’s Encirc membership, confirmed the workers would be proceeding with a strike ballot. 
Mr Keenan also pointed out workers in the English factory were now paid more than their Fermanagh colleagues, and had been offered a slightly better pay deal. 
 “Encirc’s production site in Derrylin is highly profitable and the company has a dominant position in the market for glassware in Ireland, north and south,” he said. 
“Despite this the company’s workforce remains underpaid for what is a difficult, and can be a dangerous, job. Those who work at the hot-end under the incessant heat of the blast furnaces have to take regular shelter in a chill room to avoid overheating. 
“Unfortunately, despite these oppressive conditions of work, Encirc’s employees in Fermanagh remain low-paid despite the success of the company,” he added. Mr Keenan called on “Encirc management to see sense” in the run up to the strike ballot to “avoid the risk of an unecessary disruption to business operations.” 

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