All-out strike action by 6,500 electricians on February 24 could cause as much disruption to major infrastructural projects and manufacturing enterprises as similar action did in 2009.
Members of the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union yesterday voted 94% in favour of action “to protect pay rates and working conditions in the electrical contracting industry”.
The union claims employers plan to reduce pay rates on a firm-by-firm basis.
Last May, the Supreme Court ruled that registered employment agreements, which set rates of pay and terms and conditions in a number of sectors, were unconstitutional. The registered employment agreements in the electrical industry had been in place since 1990.
Following the decision, the union entered into discussions with employers’ groups. While the talks broke down with a number of those groups, they continued with the Electrical Contractors’ Association, the largest employers’ body, until mid-January.
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.
TEEU said under former agreements and Labour Court recommendations, its members are entitled to pay rates of €24.78 an hour from April 1, 2014, but the ECA wants to cut the existing rate of €21.49 by 10% to €19.34.
“The union had been willing to discuss the ECA proposals, but only in the context of a new Registered Employment Agreement that would protect overall industry standards,” it said.
TEEU general secretary Eamon Devoy said the union’s executive council would decide whether strike action will be taken nationally against all employers simultaneously or “strategically against individual employers”.
In 2009, a strike by more than 10,000 electricians saw significant disruption to construction projects and parts of the manufacturing sector.
“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,” said Mr Devoy. ”
“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.”
Maeve McElwee, head of HR and Industrial Relations at employers’ body Ibec, said the strike threat was “damaging and unwarranted”.
“Established processes exist to deal with disputes and these should be used,” said Ms McElwee. “The 4.9% pay claim is extraordinary. The construction sector remains depressed and companies are simply not in a position to award significant pay hikes.
“The focus should be on creating new jobs and protecting existing employment.
“The expectations being created by the TEEU are unrealistic and damaging to the sector.”
Ms McElwee said the Government was in the process of developing framework proposals on a statutory structure to replace the registered employment agreements system.
“Industrial action should be halted pending the outcome of these discussions,” she said.
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