ESB technicians hold second 24-hour strike over outsourcing work
Company seeking damages from union and warns strikers of ‘financial implications’
ESB technicians, who are members of the Independent Workers’ Union, pictured on strike outside the ESB South Lotts depot in Dublin on April 23rd. The members are taking part in a second 24-hour strike on Thursday. File photograph: Laura Hutton
Technicians working for ESB Networks are to continue a work-to-rule over the bank holiday weekend and stage a 48-hour strike from Tuesday.
More than 500 network technicians, who are members of the Independent Workers’ Union (IWU), took part in a 24-hour stoppage on Thursday, their second such strike in a week.
ESB Networks has initiated legal proceedings for damages arising from the industrial action over the last week or so.
However the IWU said the legal action would be met “head on”.
The company said on Thursday that the stoppage had had limited impact on services. It said the time for repairing faults and restoring power to customers affected by outages was in line with any other day. It also said that planned maintenance had been carried out despite the strike.
The union said members of other unions at the company did not pass its pickets.
The dispute, which the company has argued is unlawful, centres on what the union has described as a lack of consultation and meaningful discussion about the outsourcing of work.
On Wednesday ESB Networks formally issued proceedings in the High Court against the IWU seeking damages and other reliefs arising from industrial action at the company.
In the proceedings ESB Networks is seeking damages for defamation and conspiracy as well as for inducement of breach of contract, unlawful interference with contractual relations .
Separately, in a letter on Wednesday to staff taking part in the strike action, ESB Networks warned that the move may have “financial implications” in addition to a loss of pay for day of the stoppage.
“As you know, ESB provides an essential service to the wider community, maintaining reliable electrical supplies for all of our customers but also to critical facilities like hospitals, nursing homes, vaccination centres and, of course, vulnerable customers. You are required to co-operate with reasonable instructions relating to this essential service and to respond to any matters impacting the provision of this essential service, including matters of system and public safety.”
“This has been previously communicated directly to you and IWU. In advance of the planned work stoppage tomorrow, I would remind that you will not be paid for any period during which you withdraw your labour. Further to this, participation in unlawful industrial action may also have financial implications for you if you participate in such action.”
The company argued in the letter that the action initiated by IWU was “neither justified nor warranted”.
The IWU has insisted the current strike is not about money.
The IWU said on Thursday that the dispute centred on a “valid legal claim for proper consultation rights under the Information and Consultation Act 2006/08, in relation to the continued outsourcing of their work by the employer”.
“Our members have been almost two years attempting to utilise all the available internal grievance procedures of the employer to resolve this issue, In that time they have come against nothing more than a brick wall approach from the employer. Eventually due to the intransient position being adopted our members were left with no option but to ballot for industrial action up to and including strike action, proper procedure under the legislation was enacted and the employer was correctively informed.”
It maintained the company had “ point blankly refused” to enter a conciliation process at the Workplace Relations Commission.
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.
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.