Friday, June 24, 2005

Eliott Staff walk out

- Lawyers threaten TGWU and Chronicle

Staff at the Eliott Hotel walked out for two hours yesterday following a dispute with management over negotiations for a new collective agreement.

About 30 workers from across the hotel’s departments – much of the workforce according to union officials - stopped work and gathered outside the main entrance. The protest took place even though some workers claimed that they had been warned they could be sacked if they went ahead with the stoppage.

And in an unprecedented move in local industrial action the hotel wrote to the TGWU alerting to the possibility of issuing defamation proceedings and made clear that they had “reminded the employees (as we are sure you have already advised them) that strike action, being deliberately aimed at disrupting the Hotel’s business, constitutes a breach of contract and justifies the summary dismissal of involved employees. We have not ruled out the possibility of dismissing all striking employees, which as you know we can do without the risk of unfair dismissal claims. If we decide on this course of action, employees can be replaced from within the Hotel’s group.”

Commenting on the threat of dismissal Charles Sisarello, district officer at the Transport and General Workers’ Union said:

“This is no way, in a democratic society, to go about it. And besides that threat, all of them have gone on strike. So in a sense, that has infuriated the members.”

In an apparent focus on the difference between ‘would’ and ‘could’ the Eliott Hotel, through its lawyers Denton Wilde Sapte, categorically denied the claims that it had told staff they would be dismissed if they participated in yesterday’s demonstration. When questioned by the Chronicle they did not however clarify that a threat with possible dismissal had in fact been made in writing.

In an email late yesterday, a day after the letter to TGWU, the Chronicle was told by the hotel’s lawyers:

“The Eliott Hotel has instructed me to emphasise to your publication the seriousness with which it views your report to me that Hotel employees stated today that the Hotel told employees that it would dismiss employees who chose to participate in today’s demonstration.

For the record, this is categorically denied by the Hotel. The Hotel has requested me to remind you that it will not hesitate to issue proceedings should your publication choose to publish any false and derogatory statement respecting the Hotel without lawful justification, whatever the source.”

Meanwhile, Mr Sisarello said the dispute followed three months of contacts with the hotel in relation to a new collective agreement. According to him, management at the Eliott Hotel had failed to provide information on the pay and conditions of its workers, thereby stalling the negotiations.

The TGWU said it wants to secure “fair wages” for its members and additionally wants to negotiate a pension scheme for the workers.

Apart from denying claims about threats of dismissal, the Eliott Hotel made no comment on yesterday’s protest.

But earlier in the week the hotel had expressed surprise and disappointment at news of the union-led action, which it described as “unreasonable” and a disservice to its employees.

In a statement on Wednesday, it said workers at the Eliott Hotel enjoyed terms and conditions that were at least similar – and in many cases superior – to those of workers in other local hotels.

It added that the hotel complied fully with statutory requirements and that, despite the industrial action, it was willing to return to the negotiating table.


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