06 July 2009

Over 10,000 Irish Electricians on Strike

Today more than 10,000 Irish electricians have followed a call from the Technical, Engineering & Electrical Union (TEEU) and went on strike in a dispute over pay.
The action follows the collapse of talks at the Labour Relations Commission over the weekend.

At 5.30am this morning pickets have been placed on hundreds of construction sites around the country, including some of the most high-profile projects such Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport, the Lansdowne Road stadium in Dublin and the Corrib gas pipeline in Co. Mayo.
The TEEU says that the drivers of many trucks have refused to cross the picket lines.

About 200 TEEU members are also picketing the building site of the large Shell gas refinery complex at Bellanaboy, Co. Mayo (right), which has seen many demonstrations in the ongoing dispute over the Corrib gas project for more than seven years.
(for details see my entries of April 28th, July 24th, September 14th, 19th & 24th, November 7th, 2008 and May 10th, 2009)

Electricians say they are looking for an 11% increase in pay, which is due to them since the peak of the economic boom four years ago.
The employers argue that this claim is "unrealistic in the current economic climate" and demand a 10% pay cut from the electricians.

A spokesman for the TEEU explained this morning that the combined affect of the employers' recent demands and their persistent refusal to honour the long agreed 11% pay rise would mean a "de facto pay cut of 21% for electricians".
"This would put an unacceptable burden on Ireland's electricians", he added, "more than twice as much as the 10% pension levy imposed on civil servants."

There have been several efforts to avoid a strike in recent weeks, involving the Labour Court and the Labour Relations Commission. But since both sides stuck firmly to their positions, no compromise was found and the TEEU proceeded with the strike action it had threatened for some time.

Besides the TEEU, which represents the majority of the country's electricians and engineers, Ireland's largest trade union SIPTU is backing the strikers as well.
In a statement SIPTU's general president Jack O'Connor (left) said that "the electricians must be supported by workers, because the employers' objective of cutting pay reflects the aim of the wealthy to protect their assets and privileged positions at the expense of the working people".

In an already turbulent and recession-hit economy, this strike - the first major industrial action in Ireland for a long time - will certainly increase tensions in employer-union relations. It will also put further pressure on the already hapless and beleaguered government, which has so far kept quiet on the issue in public, but sides clearly with the employers behind the scenes.

It can be expected that both sides will watch carefully how the strike is progressing and what the public reactions will be.
If participation stays as high as it is on day one and there is no substantial public outcry against it, it is only a question of time when the employers will return to the negotiating table with an improved offer. From today's perspective the TEEU and their members seem to be clearly in the stronger position.

The Emerald Islander


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