Illegal strike by cash-in-transit operatives

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November-December 2000 saw a major illegal strike by cash-in-transit operatives in Luxembourg, following the murder of one of their colleagues on duty. The strike triggered a sectoral tripartite meeting at which the strikers achieved their objectives in terms of improved safety standards and pay.

On 25 November 2000, a Brink's Ziegler cash-in-transit van was violently attacked by an armed gang in a hypermarket car-park. One worker died as a result of the attack and two were injured, one seriously. The attackers left empty-handed, when a police patrol approached. This was the sixth attack on a cash-in-transit operation since March 2000.

In a press release, the Luxembourg Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (Lëtzebuerger Chrëschtleche Gewerkschafts-Bond, LCGB) strongly criticised Brink's Ziegler management for not strengthening its vehicles' armour-plating as previously planned, and said that this management error had just cost a father his life.

The Luxembourg Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (Onofhängege Gewerkschafts-Bond Lëtzebuerg, OGB-L) called an emergency meeting to press for the immediate implementation of safety measures for cash-in-transit operatives and the public. The union insisted that all parties concerned should meet at once and without formality in a working group, as it believed that cash-in-transit companies should assume their share of responsibility without further ado.

Protests and strike

On 26 November, LCGB and OGB-L members spontaneously organised a number of protest actions outside the head offices of Luxembourg's three cash-in-transit companies - Brink's Ziegler, Securitas and Securicor. They blocked the entrances and exits of these companies' car parks.

On the same afternoon, the Minister of the Interior received trade union delegations for an interview, but he was unable to meet their demand that cash-in-transit operatives should in future have a police escort; the reason was a shortage of police officers. However, he promised to implement specific measures to remedy the crisis situation, and held a meeting with the police to explain in detail the steps that should be taken until the end of 2000, by which time more money would be available.

After 27 November, the spontaneous protest movement turned into a full-scale strike and blockade of the three companies' facilities, with the setting up of picket lines and a firm intention to achieve the protesters' demands. According to LCGB, there was a need for a statutory framework that dispensed with vagueness and made the security firms, as clients of the state, responsible under a "national pact of solidarity". The union demanded a Grand-Ducal Order laying down strict safety rules, in particular providing for a third operative to ride in a second vehicle in all cash movements, reinforced armour-plating, bullet-proof vests and the use of alarmed briefcases. The unions also demanded a review of the sector's collective agreement: a newly recruited cash-in-transit worker earns less than LUF 60,000 per month, while a senior crew-member with 10 years of service receives LUF 66,640.

On 28 November 2000, after an interview attended by trade union delegates, employers' representatives and the Minister of Labour, it was decided to continue the strike. The strikers welcomed a proposal from the Minister of Justice to present to the Government Council as early as 1 December a draft Grand-Ducal Order seeking to step up safety measures in the cash-in-transit sector. However, they decided to maintain their protest action because of the "repeated threats of dismissal and disciplinary action" that they had received as a result of the strike action. They insisted that they should be able to do their jobs safely, and called for guarantees that they would not be dismissed when the dispute was over.

In response, the employers stressed the illegality of the protest action - Luxembourg law bans strike action without a "statement of non-conciliation" issued by the National Conciliation Office (Office National de Conciliation).

An OGB-L representative acknowledged that the cash-in-transit operatives' strike was illegal, but argued that it had been brought about by the attitude of the employers, which had refused to provide the conditions required to enable staff to work to a satisfactorily safe standard. This was much more important than the issue of illegality, as operatives now worked in an environment of fear.

In a press release issued on 30 November, the Federation of Luxembourg Industrialists (Fédération des industriels luxembourgeois, FEDIL), whose members include the three security firms, referred to new undertakings made by the employers, particularly the introduction of a third armed operative, the compulsory wearing of bullet-proof vests, armour-plating of a higher quality than the standard applied in most of Europe, and the use of alarmed briefcases. FEDIL stated that questions linked to the guards' employment status and pay structure should be deferred, as the employers did not want to renegotiate before March 2001 a collective agreement that does not expire until 31 December 2001.

The picket lines continued to block the entrances and exits of the companies' depots, and the financial sector started to grow impatient with the blockade. A shortage of money began to affect automatic cash dispensers, and supermarket customers were asked to pay by credit card to reduce the cash shortage.

The Prime Minister was asked by the trade unions to call a sectoral tripartite meeting, and this was arranged for 2 December 2000, bringing together the three security firms, trade union delegates, the Prime Minister and the Ministers of the Economy, Justice and Labour.

Deal ends strike

At the tripartite meeting, the parties reached a deal which ended the strike. The main points are as follows:

  • a new Grand-Ducal Order has established new safety measures, some of which came into force on 4 December 2000, with the remainder to be implemented by 15 March 2001 at the latest. Security firms will face large fines if they fail to comply;
  • vehicles that carry cash will be equipped with high-quality armour-plating and a triple-compartment system. They will be fitted with new bumpers that will enable them to force their way through roadblocks set up by thieves to immobilise the vans. The floors of the vehicles will be substantially reinforced so as to withstand grenade attacks, and vans will be fitted with special tyres allowing them to keep going even if riddled with bullets. The vehicles will also be equipped with a vehicle-tracking system which will make it possible for them to be located at all times, and staff will be better armed and obliged to wear bullet-proof vests;
  • companies wishing to invest in improved safety equipment will qualify for government subsidies;
  • the entrances and exits of commercial centres will be subject to a high level of police surveillance, and each cash-in-transit operation will be escorted by a second vehicle belonging to the firm in question or by a police car;
  • during December 2000, helicopters were to be used to accompany cash-in-transit operations, thereby providing better surveillance and making it possible to pursue thieves more effectively in the event of an attack on a vehicle;
  • operatives will receive a "13th month" pay bonus and an end-of-year bonus of LUF 15,000. The employers will also count the strike days as statutory leave, and staff will be able to get paid for them by working overtime; and
  • from 1 February 2001 onwards, a joint committee will look at questions of operatives' employment status and pay within the contexts of negotiations on the next sectoral collective agreement.

Commentary

Luxembourg's legislation on occupational health and safety allows employees to refrain from working if they believe that their safety is at risk. On the basis of this principle, and boosted by public sympathy in response to recent events, cash-in-transit operatives have registered a remarkable success. By taking illegal industrial action, they have not only achieved a legitimate demand (improved safety standards) but also pulled off a remarkable coup by raising their pay, which had been fixed under an existing collective agreement, and all within the framework of a sectoral tripartite meeting. However, it is to be hoped that too many other groups do not follow the cash-in-transit workers' example. (Marc Feyereisen)

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