Crane operators stop working on 100 building sites

Construction Industry Federation criticises action that targets particular companies

Employers have argued that increases being sought by Unite would represent rises of about 80 per cent over the next year or so. Photograph: iStock

Employers have argued that increases being sought by Unite would represent rises of about 80 per cent over the next year or so. Photograph: iStock

 

Crane operators on up to one hundred building sites across the country have stopped work in a dispute over pay, the Unite trade union has said.

Dozens of crane operators staged a demonstration at the offices of the Construction Industry Federation on Friday.

Unite regional officer for construction Tom Fitzgerald said the stoppages were the first on sites operated by members of the Construction Industry Federation as part of the current pay campaign.

Mr Fitzgerald said no tower cranes were in operation on building sites in Dublin on Friday and that other locations across the country were also affected.

Speaking at the demonstration he said there would be other “strategic” stoppages in the days and weeks ahead.

“Rather than having a situation where there is all-out (Industrial action) which places maximum pressure on workers, we will hit appropriate sites and particular companies.”

Talks at the Workplace Relations Commission ended without agreement on Thursday.

Employers have argued that increases being sought by Unite would represent rises of about 80 per cent over the next year or so.

Unite said a proposed new sectoral agreement for the construction sector , which was drawn up by the Labour Court and presented to the Government last week, could involve decreases in pay between 3 per cent and 15 per cent as it did not include traditional travel payments.

Mr Fitzgerald said compensation for travel to sites had been a feature of construction workers’ pay for decades.

He said the proposed new sectoral order, which sets out minimum pay rates for the construction industry, did not enshrine such travel payments in law.

Legal protection

He said the concern of Unite was in the absence of such legal protection, some employers could lay workers off and re-employ then subsequently on different contractual terms which did not include the travel payments.

Unite said it represented over 90 per cent of crane operators in Ireland. However earlier this week a disputes committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions found the workers concerned should be encouraged to return to Siptu which traditionally represented general operatives in the building sector.

Following the break-up of talks, Unite crane operators take their demands to Construction House. Photograph: RollingNews.ie
Following the break-up of talks, Unite crane operators take their demands to Construction House. Photograph: RollingNews.ie

Mr Fitzgerald said the ICTU decision was unfortunate and the workers concerned should make their own mind up on who should represent them.

He said Unite was likely to appeal the dispute committee’s finding.

“The central tone of our appeal is likely to call on the Irish Congress of Trade Unions work with us and achieve commonality of purpose for building trade union organisation in the construction sector.”

Mr Fitzgerald urged the Construction Industry Federation “to engage meaningfully with Unite on the workers’ pay demands”.

He maintained that “an idle crane is an idle site” and that a swift resolution of this dispute was in the interests of the construction sector as a whole.

“Crane operators need a lift, and Unite is determined to ensure that they get it. Unite is calling on the Construction Industry Federation to engage meaningfully with Unite on the legitimate pay demands of crane operators. We note that the Workplace Relations Commission remains available to assist in resolving this dispute,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

Disregard

The Construction Industry Federation criticised the industrial action on Friday as another example of Unite’s “disregard for established and agreed industrial relations process and protocols”.

“At a time when Ireland faces a housing crisis and infrastructural gaps, unnecessary and unrealistic actions like Unite’s threaten the long-term viability of the construction industry and could increase construction costs by up to 30 per cent.”

It said progress in the dispute, which was paralysing many multi-million euro construction sites, could not be made unless Unite engaged in a meaningful way.

“The Construction Industry Federation was disappointed to find that today’s industrial action outside its office was organised before discussions in the Workplace Relations Commission had even begun.”

“This is the second time that Unite have bypassed normal procedures and protocols in their pursuit of their claim for an 80 per cent pay increase up to 2019.”

“This this week’s Labour Court recommendation for a Sectoral Employment Order includes a 10 per cent increase in wages for construction workers, including crane drivers.”

It said a 25 per cent increase in wages through an additional two hours greasing time has also been rejected by Unite.