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Black taxi office staff resume strike action

Black taxi office staff with supporters on the picket line Black taxi office staff with supporters on the picket line
By Ciara Quinn

THE Board of the black taxis have told the Andersonstown News they’re “committed to finding an amicable solution” to the ongoing wage dispute at the business as two women office staff resumed strike action yesterday (Wednesday).

Breige Brownlee and Seaneen Burns, who have both worked at the Belfast Taxis Community Interest Company (CIC) for over 20 years, were joined by Unite union representatives, People Before Profit’s Gerry Carroll and Sinn Féin representative Robert McClenaghan as they renewed their call for fair pay.

“Once again the support we have received from the drivers has been brilliant,” said Breige, “they have been absolutely amazing. The drivers actually contacted me to say they were taking up a collection for us – which we have told them in no uncertain terms not to do as we don’t want them being out a single penny as we are now on an all-out strike.

“We are just shell-shocked that it has come to this. I have said before, this is an equality issue. We have asked to be paid for extra work, we have twice been to the Labour Relations, we have come down from £50 to £10 a week extra which will not break Belfast Taxis,” she said. “It’s very disingenuous that the Board are now saying we are in a period of steep decline. If we are in steep decline then the question has to be asked, who is responsible? It’s certainly not the fault of the drivers who are knocking their pans in chasing their money.

“The administrative workers certainly have played their part in the history of the black taxis. We have sat in our office for 22 years now, never taken a sick day. I broke my arm in two places and never took a day off sick. Seaneen is the same. We have given above and beyond, we don’t take tea breaks or lunch breaks. You have to be treated with respect and dignity you have to be given your fair dues, that is all we have asked for here. This is a culmination of three and a half years of asking for a pay rise which has now come to strike action.”

Breige continued: “We have been to Labour Relations twice now. We have brought the proof of our extra work, the two managers have come to Labour Relations and have continually said it has nothing to do with them. We have to ask then, why are they coming to the Labour Relations meetings? Certainly we will discuss the ongoing dispute with the Board.

“We don’t want to be out here, we want to be at our desks doing our work.”

A spokesperson for Belfast Taxis C.I.C. told the Andersonstown News that they have made an offer to the two members of staff which they described as “reasonable and fair.”

“Belfast Taxis C.I.C. is a social economy project which has served the community of West Belfast for decades,” the spokesperson said. “We are an equal opportunities employer and are committed to the rights and entitlements of all workers. We remain committed to finding an amicable and fair resolution to the current wage dispute with the two workers affected. We have offered the two staff members on protest a package which we believe is reasonable and fair.

“Our door remains open to further discussions and, in our view, the place to resolve this is at the table and we urge the two workers affected to return to negotiations.”

Speaking from the picket line, Unite Regional Officer Sean Smyth said: “This pay dispute has been ongoing for several weeks and Unite has twice postponed strike action in an attempt to find a reasonable accommodation with management. Unfortunately, throughout this dispute and even before, the arrogant attitude of bosses to its unionised workforce has been nothing short of disgraceful.

“They appear completely unwilling to address the concerns of their female admin workers and are haughtily dismissive of their legitimate demands for the first pay increase in many years.

“Last week, company bosses put up notices attempting to undermine the solidarity of drivers towards the striking workers. As a result and following the complete failure by management to engage positively, today’s strike action will be continuous until the workers’ concerns are addressed.

“On a day when the gender pay gap figures for thousands of companies are dominating the news, the behaviour of management at Belfast Taxis is cast into sharp relief.”

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