Employers’ bid to quit deal sparks strike fears

THE country’s largest group of electrical employers has applied to withdraw from the legally-binding agreement which sets pay and conditions for 10,000 workers in the industry – sparking fears of crippling strikes.

At present the rates of pay and working conditions for electricians are governed by a Registered Employment Agreement (REA) under the auspices of the Labour Court. The figures pertaining to that agreement are set by a National Joint Industrial Council made up of the two main employer groups – the Association of Electrical Contractors Ireland (AECI) and the Electrical Contractors Association – as well as the workers’ trade union the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union.

However, now AECI want to withdraw from the REA.

They say the minimum pay rate of €21.50 under the agreement is too high and has meant almost 90% of employers are now non-compliant, paying their staff well below the REA rate. AECI former president and spokesman, Jack Hegarty, said he knows of employers who are now paying €15 per hour and workers are happy to accept the lower rate if it means they have work.

AECI has been pressing for the minimum rate to be reduced to €19.50 per hour for the most qualified electricians down to €17.50 for basic qualified electricians.

The decision to withdraw from the REA has come almost exactly a year after the Government commissioned a report by former Irish Congress of Trade Unions general secretary, Peter Cassells, and former Labour Court chairman, Finbarr Flood, on how to deal with non-compliance in the industry and with the fall-off in demand.

However, according to Mr Hegarty little has been done since then to implement Flood and Cassells’ findings.

The AECI say they are willing to re-enter if an REA is agreed which reflects the climate in which the industry finds itself.

It has approached a number of government ministers seeking their help in finding a resolution.

However, for now it has written to the chairman of the Labour Court Kevin Duffy informing him of its decision to withdraw from the REA and has requested the REA be cancelled under the Industrial Relations Act 1946.

The Technical Engineering and Electrical Union last night warned electrical contractors that its 10,000 members would strongly resist any attempt to dismantle the REA that guarantees minimum rates of pay and conditions of employment.

It has also strongly rejected claims by the AECI that it is asking the Labour Court to cancel the REA under the 1946 Industrial Relations Act because the union has refused to engage in meaningful negotiations.

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