Strike action hits 999 centre in Navan for 12 hours
A dozen workers picket outside large industrial centre over conditions
CWU organiser Ruairi Creaney said the dispute was about ‘dignity and respect in the workplace’.
Operators in one of the State’s three emergency 999 call centres went on strike at 8am today for a period of 12 hours over pay and trade union recognition.
The strike takes place at the Navan call centre but the other 999 centres in Dublin and Ballyshannon will operate as normal.
About a dozen workers from the 999 emergency call centre in Navan, Co Meath picketed outside a large industrial centre on Thursday over their conditions and the management regime there.
Huddled in scarves and gloves and wearing blue bibs identifying them as members of the Communications Workers Union, the employees and union organisers planned to spend a full 12 hours walking the picket.
A significant number of motorists beeped their car horns and waved to support them as they passed the entrance to a large industrial estate just outside Navan where the offices of the centre’s operator BT/Conduit Global are based. Twenty workers are based there, with three people working each 12-hour shift.
BT, the company with the contract for operating the 999 emergency call service has said there was “ a great turnout” of staff this morning despite a strike in its centre in Navan.
It said it had established a separate emergency call facility “to give operators a choice of location in order to avoid the large numbers of unaffiliated protesters that the Communications Workers’ Union (CWU) have apparently invited along”.
CWU organiser Ruairi Creaney said the dispute was about “dignity and respect in the workplace”.
“Although you will see in the media that we are campaigning for a living wage, it’s not the main issue by any means. These workers are looking to be treated with respect by their management.”
A telephone policy introduced by the company had limited them to 19 minutes in a 12-hour shift for personal time such as bathroom breaks or fetching a drink of water, Mr Creaney explained. If the workers went over this, they were disciplined.
“They couldn’t spent any more than seven minutes in the bathroom at any one time without prior permission from management and they had to report to management and back when they needed to go to the bathroom
“You can see some of the women here are in their 40s and 50s and they were having to ask a younger man when they could go to the bathroom.”
Mr Creaney said this policy was not part of the dispute on Thursday, however. The workers had not been told the policy had been revoked, as claimed by the company.
“As far as we are concerned, our workers can still be disciplined for spending too long in the bathroom.”
Audrey Byrne, from Navan, who has worked the 8pm to 8am night shift at the centre for the past two years, said she found the conditions regarding breaks and being on call “unfair”.
“We get very short notice for being on call and then we are not paid for it,” she said.
“Although my shift is from 8 at night to 8 in the morning, I can get called at 1pm in the day to go in. But I have been called at 1 in the morning to go in and finish a shift.”
Ms Byrne said management knew “right to the millisecond” how long staff had their headsets on and if they exceeded their 19 minutes personal time they would receive letters about it.
With regard to wages, Ms Byrne said the workers were on €11 and hour but the living wage was €11.50.
“They are very stressful a lot of the calls. The thing is, if I get a stressful call I have to use my DSE (personal time) to recover from that. So although they say that time is to give you a break from the screen, if I have to press my DSE button because I’ve had a stressful call, it’s not my fault. I have to come away from my desk to get a breather.”
Ms Byrne said she had been told couselling was available to the workers, but she had never seen it or heard of anyone using it.
BT Ireland said the CWU had not revealed the actual number of its members who voted in favour of industrial action, only a percentage.
“We only have the unofficial feedback to go on which is a large number of employees did not think strike action was necessary.”
The company said none of its emergency call centres had been closed as a result of the dispute.
It also said that the CWU had no role in how calls were being managed.
BT Ireland, which does not recognisethe CWU for negotiation purposes, accused the union of continuing to send out incorrect information and “irresponsibly claiming that it had a plan on how calls would be managed”.
Conduit Global, the company which operates the 999 emergency call service, said it was “very disappointed” the union was going ahead with the strike despite significant progress in engagements with staff in recent weeks.
Steve Fitzpatrick, general secretary for the CWU, said the union had been clear that it remained open to talks with BT and Conduit Global.
The contract for the emergency call answering service was awarded to BT Ireland in 2009 by the Department of Communications. BT then outsourced the work to Conduit Global.
The union said it wanted Conduit Global to deal with a number of issues including the introduction of a pay rate of €11.50 per hour, an immediate end to unnecessary and punitive suspensions, and the negotiation of a fair corrective action policy, a fair on-call policy and collective bargaining.