Organise!, WSM, trade unions and various political activists picketed a Subway restaurant in Belfast today in support of sacked Polish worker Natalia Szymanska.
The protest at the Subway restaurant on Great Victoria Street in central Belfast was, despite the poor weather, attended by around 60-70 people, during what should have been the fast-food outlet's busy lunch-hour, all showing their solidarity with Natalia. Passers-by and customers were informed of the nature of the protest and urged not to support Subway until Natalia was reinstated and reimbursed for the earnings lost as a result of her sacking.
Natalia was sacked while 5 months pregnant following a spurious claim that she had breached Subway's health & safety policy. The case echos that of a female Slovakian worker in Belfast, Dasa Kacova, earlier this year. In the Kacova case, Organise! and WSM took part in pickets of the restaurant, Delaney's, from which Dasa was sacked. Following the successful 'shut-down' of the restaurant during pickets, and an hour of negotiations, Delaney's management agreed to all of the worker's demands to reinstate Dasa immediately, reimburse her for loss of earnings, pay her outstanding holiday entitlement and to treat all workers fairly. Dasa did not wish to return to work in Delaneys and agreed to a full financial settlement.
In the Szymanska case, the Migrant Workers Unit of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) had appealed Natalia's dismissal, but according to ICTU "the hearing was not conducted fairly by Subway and they upheld the decision...It is unacceptable in this day and age that employers can still mistreat and discriminate workers in this way...The Irish Congress of Trade Unions will expose and challenge the mistreatment of workers and in particular the pregnant migrant workers who are the most vulnerable in our society."
The demands made by the protest today were to:
· immediately reinstate the pregnant worker,
· reimburse her for loss of earnings,
· compensate her for the injury to feeling,
· treat all workers fairly.
Police arrived after 30 minutes of demonstrating to ask protestors to stop obstructing the doorway, and accused picketers, who remained peaceful throughout the hour-long lunchtime protest, of being 'intimidating'. The police presence in the doorway subsequently managed to do a pretty good job of obstructing the entrance anyway.
The protesters have vowed to return to further protests at Subway and another picket has been called for 12.30 on Wednesday 15th October.