ESB Networks says it has issued High Court proceedings against union

Firm seeking damages over industrial action by network technicians ahead of new stoppage

Technicians belonging to the Independent Workers’ Union on strike outside the ESB South Lotts depot in Dublin on Friday April 23rd. Further strike action, which the union says has been prompted by a lack of consultation over work to be outsourced, is expected to take place on Thursday. Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times

Technicians belonging to the Independent Workers’ Union on strike outside the ESB South Lotts depot in Dublin on Friday April 23rd. Further strike action, which the union says has been prompted by a lack of consultation over work to be outsourced, is expected to take place on Thursday. Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times

 

ESB Networks has said it has formally issued proceedings in the High Court against the Independent Workers’ Union (IWU) seeking damages and other reliefs arising from industrial action at the company over the last week or so.

Network technicians, who are represented by the IWU, are set to stage a second 24-hour strike on Thursday over what the union maintained was a lack of consultation and meaningful discussion about the out-sourcing of work.

The technicians are also scheduled to stage a two-day stoppage on Tuesday, May 4th and Wednesday, May 5th.

ESB Networks said on Wednesday it remained “very concerned at the IWU’s industrial action” which it described as “irresponsible”.

It alleged that the union had not co-operated with emergency cover since the industrial action commenced on Monday, April 19th. It said this was “ unprecedented in ESB’s experience”.

Responding to that suggestion, the IWU said it would be more than happy to provide emergency cover. However, it said the company had not contacted it to ask for this to be made available.

The workers concerned, who initially went on strike last Friday, have also been engaged in an ongoing work-to-rule since the start of last week.

ESB Networks described the impact of the industrial action on electricity customers so far as “limited”. It said contingency planning was continuing to deal with the strikes planned for Thursday and beyond.

The IWU has said last week that the dispute was not about money.

The union said that it centred on “the failure of the employer to partake in any meaningful discussions in relation to the continued outsourcing of our members’ work to outside third parties - the continued privatisation of the ESB”.

The work performed by the network technicians includes the upgrading of infrastructure, essential maintenance and repairs, and the provision of safety services that assist external electrical contractors on outsourced projects.

There are about 1,500 staff in the network technician grade and the IWU has said it represents about 500.

The company has declined to say how many staff went on strike last Friday, however the union said about 550 took part in the stoppage.

Many of the technicians who are now members of the IWU had previously belonged to the Connect trade union but left in 2015.

The union said it was available at all times to utilise the services of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to avoid a continuation of this dispute but the company had not agreed.

ESB Networks does not recognise the IWU as a representative organisation for the network technician grades in the company. The IWU is not part of the group of unions in the company.

In a statement on Wednesday, ESB Networks said it has a well-established industrial relations structure.

“ These arrangements have served ESB Networks, our employees and customers well over those years. They have enabled a stable industrial relations environment in which ESB Networks has progressed change and built out critical national infrastructure. ESB Networks seeks to protect these arrangements.”

The company said it acknowledged “the strong support provided by our staff who are members of the affiliated trade unions”.

“The IWU have stated that the dispute is about consultation, not about union recognition or collective bargaining. They have alleged that ESB Networks has not complied with the Employee (Information and Consultation) Act of 2006. ESB Networks does not accept this.

“The IWU have chosen not to trigger the 2006 Act in line with the clear provisions of that legislation. We again call on the IWU to desist from further action.”