City officials were accused last night of “muddying the waters” in the Cork firefighters dispute by linking training course issues to the looming strike over the non-payment of back-money.
Tensions ran high during a meeting of Cork City Council last night as councillors tried to discuss the dispute in the wake of the overwhelming vote by firefighters over the weekend in favour of strike action.
Management insisted they are fully committed to paying firefighters what they are owed, but only “if they undertake all their duties”.
However, efforts by Sinn Féin and Solidarity to discuss the issue in detail during last night’s council meeting were not allowed.
As brigade members dealt with another substantial gorse fire in the Glen area of the city last night, Fianna Fáil councillor Terry Shannon said it was “unprecedented” to discuss such industrial relations issues in the council chamber.
The former Siptu official said there are “agreed procedures and systems” for dealing with such issues and the council chamber floor was not one of them.
In reply to a written question from Sinn Féin councillor Kenneth Collins, Michael Burke, the council’s assistant director of services in HR management and organisational reform, said the issues originate from the non-engagement of fire personnel in safety training courses. It is understood this has been ongoing since 2015.
He told councillors that City Hall has had to cancel 20 training courses because of the lack of participation, which has serious health and safety implications.
He said the council has been to the Workplace Relations Commission twice over this issue, and that the firefighters are operating outside all agreed practices.
He said he has not yet received official notification from Siptu about the ballot but that he has contacted the Labour Court seeking an early engagement, and the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in the hope of facilitating a meeting before the end of this week.
Earlier, Siptu organiser Con Casey insisted the dispute is linked to the council’s failure to honour an agreement to pay his members monies due under the Public Services Stability Agreement — and not the training courses issue.
“Attempts by the council to conflate these separate matters only serve to make the achievement of a resolution to the outstanding pay dispute all the more difficult,” said Mr Casey.
He pointed out that the Cork fire brigade is the only full-time brigade in the country not to receive these payments — estimated to be worth around €500 to each of the city’s 140-strong brigade.
He said serving the public and keeping them safe is the number one priority of Siptu’s members in the fire service.
“They deeply regret any action which could give the impression they are not fully committed to their crucial and often dangerous profession. That is why they wish to see a speedy resolution to this dispute,” he said.
“However, they also cannot accept a situation where agreements that they entered into in good faith are not being respected. Siptu representatives remain available to discuss a resolution to this pay dispute.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved