'We acknowledged that every employee has the right to join a union' - Seagate meets Derry Council
US technology giant Seagate said it has acknowledged ‘that every Seagate employee’ at its Derry plant ‘has the right to join a union’.
The company was responding after a meeting held with Derry City and Strabane councillors was welcomed by local representatives but described by some as disappointing.
Council will now arrange a meeting with UNITE and Seagate workers’ representatives to brief them on the outcome of the meeting with management.
Proposing the meeting, People Before Profit spoke of his frustrations at ‘what the Seagate management had to offer’.
“From our perspective as a council and as individual councillors we made it very clear what we were asking for and I think we represented the views of the workers very well, especially their demands for trade union recognition.
“I want to propose we meet with some of the workers’ representatives and UNITE to brief them on the meeting and give them a formal update. Then we can discuss with them what else the council can do to support them.”
Agreeing it was a good idea to brief the trade union and representatives of the workers on the outcome of the meeting, SDLP Colr Brian Tierney added: “Seagate believes that their reason and rationale for not engaging with the trade union movement at this stage is to respect people’s right not to join a trade union which I can understand but fundamentally disagree with, which I made clear at the meeting.
“It’s my view that trade union recognition will be gained within Seagate. It will, in my view, be extremely unfortunate if Seagate gets dragged to that position by their workforce but the main goal is that the workforce get there.”
“We now need to come together with the trade union and workforce to plan what the next steps are. Everyone recognised at the meeting that the Seagate management were also wanting to work with elected representatives about the future of the plant and how we within council can help and support them.
“That meeting with the management was one step in a long process to help them continue the growth of the site which is a good and positive outcome.”
Speaking about his disappointment with the outcome of the meeting, Aontú Cllr Emmet Doyle added it was one of the the few meetings he had been to as an elected representative that ‘everyone was speaking from the one hymn sheet’.
He commented: “We put a number of very important points to the management. I put it specifically to the management that if there was no issue with a trade union organisation or representation then there should be a trade union operating and fully recognised in the plant but obviously we aren’t at that point yet.”
Agreeing, Sinn Féin Cllr Christopher Jackson said: “We all came at it with a unified voice in support of the workers and workers’ demands. Equally I would confirm that we were deeply frustrated with the meeting.
“There does need to be a greater collaboration between our council and any major employers within our city and district to overcome some of the challenges in a more strategic level to encourage employment, to create employment and to sustain jobs within our district.
“The lack of willingness to engage with trade unions makes it very difficult to have that strategic discussion, to have that strategic supporting partnership because these issues are coming to the fore and they need to be addressed.”
Welcoming the fact the management of Seagate engaged with councillors, Alliance representative Rachael Ferguson said: “We got a definitive answer that people can join unions and they shouldn’t be discouraged or discriminated against and if they are they should follow the current process and for me that was a bit of comfort.”
DUP Alderman Niree McMorris urged any Seagate workers who felt they were aggrieved to use the due processes.
“At the meeting I felt there was a lot of strong language used in regards to claims some employees. There is a grievance procedure open to employees… I would encourage them to go through the process because that will only add weight to their cause of getting unions into Seagate.”
Describing the meeting as a ‘lost opportunity’, Independent Colr Gary Donnelly said he felt there was a ‘reluctance’ from the management.
Referring to the grievance process he said: “My understanding is that a lot of the workers don’t have a lot of faith in the grievance procedures and if you don’t have faith in the procedures you aren’t going to use them because you don’t have trust.”
A spokesperson for Seagate meanwhile said: “Seagate management had a productive meeting with councillors where we have confirmed our intention to continue working with elected representatives to strengthen the partnership that contributed to Seagate's growth from 500 to 1650 employees in Springtown.
“We acknowledged that every Seagate employee has the right to join a union as do those who choose not to. Our focus is on keeping a neutral and safe environment where each employee can make their own decision. We are confident that continued partnership will lead to further success and prosperity for all.
“Seagate has nearly 30 years of investments and operations in NI with a long-standing commitment to its employees and local community.
“Since beginning operations in Springtown, Seagate has invested over $1.5B and substantially increased its local employee base. We have significant partnerships with NI academic, business and government institutions which enhance NI’s position as a hub for innovation.
“The NI facility at Springtown is central to Seagate’s global operations and our highly skilled staff continue to be at the heart of the Seagate business strategy, positioning NI operations as a world leader in nano-manufacturing.
“The Company recognises the importance of continued relationship building with all its stakeholders.
“The wellbeing of our employees remains our focus, we offer a comprehensive employee compensation and benefits package, and we have a range of internal processes, should employees wish to raise any matters directly with the company.”
By Gillian Anderson, Local Democracy Reporter and Brendan McDaid