999 emergency-call workers threaten to strike

Call-centre workers who answer 999 emergency calls are threatening strike action over wages and working conditions.

A majority of staff based at the Munster Regional Communications Centre, which dispatches fire services for six counties, are expected to be balloted for industrial action in the next week by their union, Siptu. This will go up to, and including, strike action. If strike action goes ahead, it could have consequences for people in need of urgent help in Limerick, Cork, Clare, Tipperary, Kerry, and Waterford.

Some 25,000 calls are handled annually in the Munster centre, which serves 1.2m people. The centre employs 25 people.

Angry workers want their status changed by Limerick City and County Council — which runs the facility — from outdoor staff to emergency staff. They want their pay increased in line with this.

Union sources say Limerick’s local authority has not engaged with staff on a number of other issues, and has ignored requests from the Workplace Relations Commission.

Limerick-based Sinn Féin senator, Paul Gavan, said it would be “an absolute crisis” if the action goes ahead and he urged the local authority to open talks with the union.

While firefighting personnel are not part of this action, the impact will be felt, as the call-centre dispatchers are the only ones who direct the emergency service.

“This is a last resort. Nobody wants to have to be doing this,” a union source said.

“It’s all down to the council’s personal agenda. We are emergency services when it suits them. But if the firefighters next door get something, we don’t get it. We’re not classed as emergency service workers, but we do provide an emergency service.

“We’re providing a service, and very good at our jobs, but they do not want to engage and help make things better,” the source, who did not wish to be identified, added.

Mr Gavan said: “It’s an extremely serious situation. The council must do everything to avoid a strike. We have seen far too much of a high-handed approach from the council towards its employees. Ultimately, this is about respect and dignity. It’s totally unacceptable for the council to ignore the industrial relations machinery of the State and refuse to engage on key issues.”

Mr Gavan said he finds it hard to believe that the other councils who feed into the centre have not stepped in to help resolve the standoff.

“If the workers have to resort to strike action, they have the full support of both myself and my party members in Sinn Fein. But it should not come to this,” he added.

One of only three control centres dispatching fire services in the State, the communications centre is responsible for 65 retained, and four full-time, fire stations in Munster.

Limerick City and County Council declined to comment.

Siptu also did not wish to comment.

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