A large number of Unite the Union members employed by Balcas staged a two day strike against the company in the hope of obtaining fair pay.

The strike action against the wood product supplier based outside Enniskillen started at 6am on Tuesday April 9 and concluded this morning at 6am,Thursday April 11.

The Impartial Reporter spoke to a number of Balcas employees engaging in the strike action on Tuesday morning. One employee, who has been working for Balcas for less than a year, told this newspaper: “I knew the pay here wasn’t great but they’d talked about putting it up. That was kind of the promise that has kept me here.”

They added: “They are giving you money in bonuses but taking it off you at the same time to make it up to the minimum wage. They are showing us that we are getting a bonus but we’re not.”

Another employee commented: “When you come in and you start on a lower wage you expect yourself to get up the ladder a bit and earn a few more pounds, but it’s never happening, it’s broken promises.”

“We are still paying for the recession from 2008, we agreed 11 years ago when the recession hit that we wouldn’t get a pay rise during that time, for a five year period, but after that the company was starting to get more money. They were investing the money in the mill but not investing in the people,” commented one of the strikers. When asked what they hope the strike action will achieve, one employee said: “We hope the wages go up as we deserve.” They continued: “We break our backs for not even minimum wage, working for £6.86 an hour, even if we are doing overtime. I’m working like 11 hours with my hands, and my back is sore. Nobody is appreciated.”

Speaking on behalf of the strikers at the picket line on Tuesday, Davy Kettyles, Senior Regional Organiser for Unite the Union in Ireland said: “The strike didn’t necessarily have to happen today if the management had recognised that the offer they had put on the table was insufficient.” He continued: “It’s our sincere hope that a resolution can be found to the dispute and it’s worth noting that Fermanagh workers are not exactly legend for industrial action.

“If I’m not incorrect this is probably the first private sector dispute in this county for many decades, I think it is a measure of the frustration that the workers, particularly at Balcas, are feeling. Over the past decade in Balcas, the workers actually feel that their money is reduced, so what they are actually asking for is a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” he added.

Following negotiations last week, Davy noted that Balcas made a new pay offer which was put democratically to all the workers and 90 per cent of the workers who had balloted for industrial action rejected the offer. Davy said: “The fact that they were prepared to go out on a two day strike with the possibility of a three week strike is a fair measure of the temperament among the work force.”

He added: “People do feel the time has come, Balcas is a very wealthy, very profitable company, they have been here a very long time.

“They definitely have improved the offer and we believe that there is still more room for that offer to be improved. We are looking forward to a successful outcome to this dispute.”

In response to the strikers, a spokeswoman on behalf of Balcas stated: “Balcas are disappointed that an agreement has not yet been reached through constructive discussion.

“Our current offer equates to more than twice the rate of inflation for the average employee. Balcas thinks this is a fair and reasonable offer.

“We are open to dialogue and we would urge employee representatives to engage in meaningful discussion to resolve this. Balcas is continuing to work in dialogue with staff and union representatives to agree a pay review which is acceptable to our employees.

“We wish to resolve the current dispute through dialogue, not through confrontation.”

“We have been working with our employees to ensure they have a clear understanding of what is being offered and how this would translate into their pay packet, when increases in hourly rates and average hours of overtime or other bonuses are calculated,” she concluded.