An Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) disputes committee is expected to adjudicate on Wednesday in a major row between the Siptu and Unite trade unions over alleged poaching of members.
Siptu complained to the Ictu last April that Unite had taken into its membership a number of crane operators employed in the construction sector who traditionally had come within its sphere of influence.
The inter-union row forms a backdrop to the recent strike action by crane operators over pay which disrupted a number of construction sites over the last few weeks. A planned extension of this action by crane operators represented by Unite was suspended last week to facilitate talks at the Workplace Relations Commission.
It is understood that Siptu argued that for many decades it had the rights to negotiate on behalf of general operatives and related categories of workers in the construction sector and that crane operators were not a separate negotiating unit.
Siptu contended that it represented overall about 14,000 general operatives. Unite has argued that it represents about 90 per cent of crane operators in the country.
Siptu has maintained that it has the bulk of crane operators – nearly 150 – in its membership. It is understood that Unite argued that it had been approached by a group of crane operators earlier this year and that the union had sought a joint approach on representing general operative grades in the construction sector.
It is understood that Unite has contended that while Siptu traditionally represented the majority of such workers, it for many years had in membership – through one of its predecessor unions – general operatives across all sectors including construction, particularly in counties Waterford and Louth.
Siptu is understood to have complained that, among other issues, Unite had issued application forms to crane operators that omitted any question as to whether they had been previously a member of a union.
Another area of complaint is understood to be based around allegations that Unite failed to consult with Siptu in advance of taking crane operators into membership with the exception of two individuals.
The rules of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions allow for an appeal against the findings of a dispute committee.