Construction sector unions seek guaranteed 39-hour week

Unite says some employers sending workers home without pay during inclement weather

In addition, unions want pay rises of 4 per cent annually for three years, starting in October, as part of an amended sectoral employment order. Photograph: Getty Images

In addition, unions want pay rises of 4 per cent annually for three years, starting in October, as part of an amended sectoral employment order. Photograph: Getty Images

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Trade unions in the construction sector are to seek a minimum guaranteed 39-hour week for workers as part of a proposed revised sectoral employment agreement.

Essentially the unions want to see an end to the practice of construction workers being sent home without pay when work was not possible due to inclement weather.

In addition, unions want pay rises of 4 per cent annually for three years, starting in October, as part of an amended sectoral employment order.

It is understood that construction industry employers have argued that the sector is in an extremely fragile position as it emerges from Covid restrictions and have proposed that hourly rates increase by 1.6 per cent on April 1st, 2022, with a further increase of 1.6 per cent in hourly rates a year later.

Submissions

The Labour Court has invited submissions by the end of July for a review of pay and conditions on foot of an application by five trade unions for a new sectoral employment order for the general construction sector.

Such an examination of pay and conditions could lead to a recommendation going to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar, regarding a new sectoral employment order, which would set out minimum levels to apply in the future.

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The trade union Unite said on Wednesday that “at a time when extreme weather events are likely to become more common, a small minority of employers have been sending workers home without pay when weather conditions make work impossible”.

“In light of the recent legislative requirement that employers specify a worker’s daily and weekly hours, unions are seeking an amendment to the sectoral employment order providing a minimum of 39 guaranteed hours weekly,” Unite regional officer Tom Fitzgerald said.

Working week

Construction employer sources maintained there is no provision for a guaranteed work week under the sectoral employment order, but said most companies pay workers for a full week even where there were interruptions such as inclement weather.

Unite is a member of the construction industry committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions which has made a submission to the Labour Court.

Mr Fitzgerald said: “All the indications are that the construction sector is rebounding strongly as we emerge from the pandemic. The amended sectoral employment order being sought by unions will not only provide stability but will also make it more difficult for rogue operators to undercut good employers.

“As well as seeking a 4 per cent annual increase in basic pay over the next three years, starting this October, unions are seeking to rectify anomalies which can be exploited by bad employers.”

Instability

Employers are understood to have argued that the industry was currently extremely fragile as it continued to cope with a global pandemic, and the uncertainty and instability that a pandemic imposes.

They say the impact of the scarcity of building materials and the substantial increase in the cost of these materials cannot be overestimated.

Some contracts were deferred, or cancelled altogether, because of the uncertainty of the pandemic, employers say. Others are now being cancelled due to the substantial increase in the cost of materials.

There is also employer concern that the full effects of Brexit have not yet been fully felt as they have been masked by the global pandemic.

The employer view is that increases in labour costs must be realistic and sustainable. They also want sufficient lead-in time to enable firms to include any increased cost of labour into tender prices.