Industrial action involving engineering company’s employees to proceed

H A O’Neil, part of Jones Engineering, says no valid disagreement exists between it and Unite members

Planned industrial action that includes some employees of an engineering firm will proceed on Friday after Unite the Union agreed not to hold any further strikes concerning this dispute until the High Court has determined the firm’s injunction application. The union is expected to place pickets on two construction sites: the Intel campus near Leixlip in Co Kildare and Pfizer’s Grange Castle site in Dublin.

The Unite trade union and three individuals named as defendants in H A O’Neil Ltd’s proceedings gave an undertaking to the court on Thursday to refrain from holding further strikes until after the court has given its decision.

Mr Justice Brian O’Moore scheduled H A O’Neil’s application, which is being contested by the defendants, for hearing on March 21st.

H A O’Neil, which is part of the Jones Engineering Group, wants the court to make an order preventing its employees who are Unite members from participating in the industrial action.

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The company claims the planned industrial action is being carried out in breach of the 1990 Industrial Relations Act. It says no valid disagreement exists between it and the union.

These “unlawful” pickets will occur at work sites of H A O’Neil, including the Intel facility in Kildare; the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board in Rialto, Dublin; Diageo Ireland at St James Gate, Dublin; and Pfizer’s facility in Clondalkin, Dublin, the firm alleges.

The dispute between the workers and the firm concerns a demand for the restoration of a travel allowance of one hour’s pay that had been previously given to employees.

Óisín Quinn SC, for the defendants, told the court on Friday it is intended that another strike would be held on March 24th, but a strike notice, required seven days before an action, has not yet been issued. The undertaking to the court allows the union to issue a seven-day notice, but the strike will be called off if the court has not given its ruling before the scheduled event.

Holding the hearing at a later date will enable the court to determine the “relatively serious issues” in an orderly way, he said.

H A O’Neil’s senior counsel, Marcus Dowling, said his client was agreeing to this.

H A O’Neil employs more than 400 people directly and some 1,100 indirectly or on a contractual basis.

It says the one-hour travel allowance was paid to workers before it was incorporated into their hourly pay more than a decade ago.

In 2019, says H A O’Neil, Unite and Connect trade unions sought pay increases and the restoration of the travel allowance for its members. An agreement was reached on pay, but the allowance issue has not been resolved, the firm says.

The Labour Court last year declined to recommend restoration of allowance, the firm claims.

Last month, Unite said its H A O’Neil employee members had rejected the Labour Court’s recommendation and voted to take industrial action, including withdrawing labour and picketing at work sites, the company alleges.

H A O’Neil says Unite’s decision breaches a “no strike” clause in a Sectoral Employment Order for firms that are members of the Construction Federations Mechanical Engineering and Building Services Contractors Association, which H A O’Neil is.

Unite, the company claims, is attempting to circumvent the collective dispute resolution procedure entered into with members of the association.

The claims are denied.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is High Court Reporter with The Irish Times