Bookie says ‘we’ll be open’ as union calls for Grand National boycott

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The Unite trade union is asking punters not to cross picket lines at Sean Graham bookies in Londonderry and Claudy during the Aintree Grand National on Saturday, April 9, while the bookmaker’s general manager Chris Deery has vowed all of its shops will be open for what’s normally a bumper day in the annual calendar.

Davy McMurray, Unite officer for Sean Graham staff said: “Counter staff working in SP Graham outlets across Northern Ireland will be taking strike action tomorrow to demand a Living Wage from their employer.

“They are reporting strong support from punters, who agree that they deserve a decent rate of pay. We are calling on the wider public to respect the workers’ strike action and to refuse to cross picket lines.

“Management has sought to downplay the impact of strike action but we are aware that they are seeking to undermine the strike through employing strike-breaking ‘scab’ labour.

“We are putting SP Graham on-notice that Unite will bring forward a requisite complaint to the Employment Agency Inspectorate; we will use the full rigours of the law to defend our members’ rights.

“This is a multi-million pound sector who can easily afford an uplift in wages: the only direct costs this company has are for the betting dockets.

“Companies across Northern Ireland will benefit from a 50% increase in the employers’ NIC allowance this year as well as potentially a 7.5 per cent reduction in corporation tax in the near future. The intent of these policies is that they will pass on that benefit through higher pay and so stimulate consumption in the wider economy. What’s more, while some employers claim they can’t afford to pay a Living Wage today, they will have to pay even higher rates in the coming years as the Government continues to increase the legal minimum.

“We are calling on SP Graham management to return with a realistic pay increase for their workers – one that reflects their contribution to business profits. It is not too late, even at this late stage, to avert this unnecessary and damaging strike”, Mr McMurray concluded.

But Mr Deery hit back: “The industrial action that has been taken is supported by less than a quarter of all Sean Graham staff, and in fact we understand that only eight staff turned up to his last union meeting.

“As an employer we recognise the important role our staff play in making our business successful. We have offered a rate of pay to Cashiers that will protect the viability of the business and jobs in the future. Managers will get the same 10.24 per cent rise across two years and are paid substantially above the National living Wage already.

“We can offer no more as to do so would cost jobs and cause shop closures. Mr McMurray’s latest statement stating ‘the only direct costs this company has are for the betting dockets’ shows little understanding of the betting sector and his use of the term ‘scab labour’ is completely disrespectful to existing employees who wish to work.

“We would hope that Unite will recognise the steps that we have taken as a local business to create employment.

“While we respect staff members’ right to strike we have lodged several formal complaints to Mr McMurray regarding picket line conduct including the use of people unconnected with the pay dispute.

“So far we have received no response. We have filed documentation, including CCTV evidence, with the PSNI regarding a picket line flag bearer entering one of our shops and verbally abusing and threatening to cause a working member of staff physical harm.

“The Union know well the Code of Practice regarding conduct on picket lines. Mr McMurray and his members should respect a person’s desire to work and we hope that anyone participating in picket lines is respectful and works within the Code of Practice.

“Mr McMurray is misinforming the public with his media comments and one wonders if he is misleading his own membership as well.

“For our staff who will be in work today and for the public who use our shops the most important matter is that they can enjoy the Grand National without intimidation.”