Bricklayers vote to withdraw from employment agreement

 

A move by the bricklayers' union to pull out of the employment agreement for the construction industry has prompted fears of further industrial unrest in the building industry.

The decision yesterday by the Building & Allied Trades' Union (BATU) to ballot members on withdrawal from the agreement marks a new stage in the conflict within the industry over safety standards and the use of sub-contractors.

Although BATU has only 8,000 members - comprising all bricklayers and 50 per cent of carpenters - it has the power to bring every building site in the State to a halt if it carries out the threat to withdraw from the Construction Industry Registered Employment Agreement.

The Construction Industry Federation is to consider the BATU move at an executive meeting tomorrow. A CIF spokesman said last night the matter was for the nine craft unions to resolve.

Last year, a series of unofficial disputes involving some BATU members caused serious disruption at a number of building sites in Dublin. The row led to the jailing for a period of two building workers as well as serious friction between BATU and other craft unions not opposed to sub-contracting.

BATU has already sought a High Court judicial review of the latest agreement which, with the consent of other unions, explicitly recognises sub-contracting.

A special delegate conference of BATU representatives voted in Dublin yesterday to recommend that the union withdraw from the agreement by the end of the year. The vote by the 80 delegates was unanimous.

BATU says the agreement, which has set legally binding terms and conditions of employment for 50,000 building workers since the 1960s, is outdated. In particular, the union is angry at delays in dealing with grievances that arise on building sites.

"We require progressive industrial relations machinery that can help keep pace with the highly mobile industry of today," said the general secretary of BATU, Mr Paddy O'Shaughnessy. "No more is BATU prepared to tolerate employers hiding behind the agreement, frustrating settlements at every turn and then, having used the industrial relations machinery as a shield, heading for the High Court to frustrate the process even further."

Mr Shaughnessy called for a "fast-track" approach to settling disputes. He pointed out that building projects that once took years to complete are now finished within weeks, before the machinery for resolving grievances has started to operate.

He said the Irish Congress of Trade Unions had set up a committee to look at ways of resolving disputes between unions on subcontracting.