Last year, a week-long strike by the electricians brought a number of high-profile building projects around the country to a standstill. Over the following weeks, the Electrical Contractors Association agreed a 4.9% pay increase, which saw the strike called off.
Now, the ECA, whose members employ 5,000 electricians, has withdrawn its support for the increase at a hearing of the Labour Court.
At that hearing it had, along with the Technical, Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU), been expected to apply officially to vary the Registered Employment Agreement (REA) which sets wages and terms and conditions in the electrical industry, to take account of the increase.
However, just hours before the hearing, the ECA confirmed its intention to withdraw support for the increase and it submitted a letter to the court.
It said it remained supportive of the REA but it could not support a variation when, firstly, the High Court is set to rule in the coming weeks on the validity of the REA and, secondly, Tánaiste and Enterprise Minister Mary Coughlan has not finalised the application of a report she commissioned on the industry.
The Association of Electrical Contractors in Ireland, which represents 300 small and medium-sized contractors, had previously rejected the percentage increase.
In its submission to the Labour Court, it said that, not only was it not in favour of the increase, but it wanted to a “root and branch” overhaul of the REA itself because many of its members would be put out of business if it was maintained.
Owen Wills, general secretary of the TEEU, said he believed the ECA had been pressured into withdrawing its support for the pay increase by its umbrella body, the Construction Industry Federation (CIF).
“It is unacceptable as far as we are concerned that an organisation like the ECA would arrive at the court on the day and change their minds,” he said. “Our view is that the ECA did not make that decision, but it was imposed upon them by the Construction Industry Federation, which is their umbrella body.”
He said the CIF had been looking for a 10% cut in the construction wage and so was vehemently opposed to the 4.9% increase being countenanced by the ECA.
“We do not have any respect for the ECA, its members or the CIF,” he added. “It is not a body you can do business with on the basis of its integrity and standing. Our executive will consider what we will do next.”
Asked whether strikeaction was on the cards he said: “At this point in time there is no alternative to that.”