The Workings of Anti-Union Legislation at the Clarion & Davenport Hotels


The Clarion describes itself as one of “Cork’s premier 4 Star City Centre Hotel”.  Although it’s well able to charge for its rooms it cannot find its way to granting its workers a 29 cent per hour pay rise.

The current situation began in 2009 when the workers at the Clarion had their wages cut by a €1 an hour, bringing their rate of pay to €8.80 an hour. Last year a number of workers at the hotel decided to join the Independent Workers Union (IWU). They subsequently lodged a claim for a pay rate of €9.09 an hour.  This is the rate of pay established by the Joint Labour Committee Agreement for Hotel Rates (Outside Dublin) and thus legally binding. It would at least give Clarion employees parity with other workers in the sector. Clarion Management rejected the claim by the workers.

The case was taken by the IWU to the Labour Court and opened in January.  Noel Murphy of the IWU attended on behalf of the unions’ members.   Clarion Management also attended with a number of IBEC (Irish Business and Employers Confederation) advisors.  The IBEC legal team immediately raised the matter that none of the Clarion’s employees were actually present at the Labour Court.  Citing the Supreme Court ruling in Ryanair v IMPACT (2007), which stipulated that “a company was entitled to know and see evidence given by those employees that were claiming an industrial dispute existed”, they asked to see which of their workers were making a claim against them.   Cynically Clarion claimed that they had their own ‘internal’ HR mechanism for ‘sorting out disputes’ and that there would be no ill effects for any employee who approached them using this method.  The workers at Clarion do not agree.

Not surprisingly the Labour Court saw the boss’s side of things and applied the ruling in the Ryanair v IMPACT case.  This led to the case being adjourned immediately until and when the workers from the Clarion showed their faces.   Noel Murphy was subsequently unable to persuade the workers at the Clarion to come forward. Many are the sole breadwinners in their families and, as he pointed out, ‘they simply cannot afford to lose their jobs’.
So, for the moment, intimidation, bullying and greed have won the day in Cork.  And of course the Labour Court has also shown its true metal.  Surprised?  Apparently it’s part of an “impartial” mediation procedure as well as being central to Ireland’s legendary “partnership” process!   We don’t think so.  As conceived, it is a tool of the employers and the privileged in this country, paying fat and lucrative wages to judges who know what side their bread is buttered on.  We can expect no sympathy there.

In Dublin, SIPTU placed pickets on the Davenport Hotel after workers were taken off the roster for refusing to sign new contracts reducing their wage rate by almost a euro to €7.70 per hour. The Davenport Hotel is part of the O’Callaghan Hotel Group owned by Persian Properties and property developer, Noel O’Callaghan. SIPTU says he has been a regular financial contributor to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael over the years. The Group owns three other hotels in Dublin, the Alexander Hotel, the Mont Clare and O’Callaghan Stephen’s Green. It also owns hotels in Gibraltar and in Annapolis, Maryland, USA and is currently building a new hotel in Warsaw, Poland for €21 million.

The situation at the Clarion though does show why it’s crucial that the Davenport workers win.  The dispute at the Davenport needs mass solidarity and a mass picket, which is how it could be effective and decisive.  But the Davenport’s owners have already challenged SIPTU in the courts under the 1990 Industrial Relations Act. Following on from this SIPTU have been ordered to limit the picketing outside the Davenport. Needless to say SIPTU’s officialdom will be advised by its legal team to comply with this order and duly will. The strike at the Davenport, accordingly, is in grave danger of not being effective enough against a tough and resourceful employer.

The Davenport dispute highlights the real limitation for workers of taking a course of action that respects the law and the industrial relations machinery.  It amounts to this: you can strike but you won’t be effective. We all know what that means ultimately.

The need to defy the Industrial Relations Act is obvious.  But no one group of workers can do it on their own. Nor can the workers at the Davenport be expected to lead the way when they do not know what level of support exists behind them and in solidarity with them. Right now, it is necessary to address this issue. Links between those more politicised workers who see the need to resist and fight back must be established. In many areas, in many workplaces across the country, dissent and resistance is alive.  But this resistance is often isolated and is disconnected from the broader assault on our wages and conditions. We urgently need to link up and to start talking about building a grassroots workers movement. A key aim of any such momentum would be to deliver solidarity when it’s needed. For times like now with the Davenport dispute but also for workers like those at the Clarion in Cork who must, for the moment, contend with a bullying and greedy employer, who may yet come back for more.