All-out strike action by 6,500 electricians could cause serious disruption to major infrastructural projects and manufacturing within a matter of weeks.
The Technical Engineering and Electrical Union is balloting its members across the electrical contracting industry for strike action in defence of pay rates which, it says, employers plan to reduce on a firm-by-firm basis.
Last May, the Supreme Court ruled that registered employment agreements were unconstitutional.
These agreements have been used to set rates of pay as well as terms and conditions in a number of sectors. The current agreement in the electrical industry has been in place since 1990.
Following the decision, the union entered into talks with employers’ groups. While talks broke down with a number of those groups, they continued with the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA), the largest employers’ body, on Jan 16.
At that point, according to the union, the ECA said it was going to advise its members individually to negotiate with their employees for pay cuts where necessary.
In a letter sent on Friday, union general secretary Eamon Devoy notified the ECA of the ballot for strike action and said he expects to serve notice of industrial action on all employers once the ballot concludes on Feb 7.
He said “strike action may be taken nationally against all employers simultaneously or strategically against individual employers as determined by the executive council of the union”.
A strike by more than 10,000 electricians in 2009 saw significant disruption to construction projects and parts of the manufacturing sector.
According to the union, former agreements and recommendations by the Labour Court mean union members are entitled to pay rates of €24.78 an hour from Apr 1, 2014.
It says the ECA wants to cut the existing rate of €21.49 by 10% to €19.34. It said it had been willing to discuss the ECA proposals, but only in the context of a new registered agreement that would protect overall industry standards.
Mr Devoy said the union had continually tried to reach agreement with the employers about how to plan a sustainable recovery strategy for the industry.
“Unfortunately the employer groups have continued to squabble amongst themselves and it now seems that they intend allowing the law of the jungle to prevail with every company negotiating its own rates of pay directly with employees,” he said.
“Such a development would lead inevitably to a situation where not only employment but consumer and safety standards would plummet.
“It is in no-one’s interest that this should happen except for a few cowboy operators whose only interest is in winning a quick buck and moving on to rip off the next customer.”
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