Bill proposes ban on strikes by staff at critical utilities

Government will oppose legislation brought forward by Independent Senator Feargal Quinn

Senator Feargal Quinn has proposed a Bill ‘to provide for the security of supply of mains water and mains electricity - critical utilities’. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill.

Senator Feargal Quinn has proposed a Bill ‘to provide for the security of supply of mains water and mains electricity - critical utilities’. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill.

Wed, Dec 4, 2013, 13:01

The Government will oppose as “counterproductive”, a Bill banning electricity strikes or interruption of water supplies.

The Critical Utilities (Security of Supply) Bill will be introduced in the Seanad next week by Independent Senator Feargal Quinn. Mr Quinn said the purpose of the Bill was “to provide for the security of supply of mains water and mains electricity - critical utilities”.

The two-page Bill makes it an offence “for a person to induce another to cause an interruption to the supply of a critical utility”. The Bill also makes it an offence “for a person to engage in industrial action which causes an interruption to the supply of a critical utility”.

The legislation provides fines of up to €250,000 or five years’ imprisonment.

Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte said, however, that while the Government believed there should not be industrial disruption in the utilities sector, “applying the criminal law to this purpose would be counterproductive.

“Provisions in negotiated agreements for ‘no strike’ clauses can work well; however, statutory provisions that include criminal sanctions are an entirely different matter,” he said.

“The industry relations machinery of the State works exceptionally effectively. Mandatory provisions to punish the withdrawal of labour would risk undermining that effectiveness - and, especially in the immediate environment, be counterproductive.”

Mr Quinn stressed the legislation did not seek to remove the right to strike, picket or otherwise take industrial action.

“The intent behind the Bill is to ensure, in a proportionate and least intrusive way, that any such action does not interfere with the continued supply of critical utilities”.

The Minister siad however that there has been a good record of industrial peace in the State for more than 20 years, including in critical utilities. “The success of our industry relations machinery is due in no small way to the fact that it is voluntarist in character. Almost invariably both sides of industry have given their voluntary allegiance to making our industrial relations institutions work.”

The legislation will be introduced amid concern over proposed industrial action by ESB workers in a row with the company over the security of the pension, which has a €1.6 billion deficit.

The Bill’s explanatory memorandum explains that virtually every home and business in the State depends on the mains supply or water and electricity or “critical utilities”. A secure and reliable supply of electricity and water are of special importance to the social and economic fabric of society.

Where a mains supply of water or electricity is availed of by homes and businesses, they become dependent on the uninterrupted and continuous supply of those utilities. It is therefore essential that the continued provision of those utilities be assured and protected under legislation, the memo states.

The legislation also deals with an offence committed by a “body corporate” and notes that because the Bill does not contain a commencement provision, it comes into force immediately after being signed by the President.

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