Business Irish

Saturday 22 July 2017

Builders may resort to courts in crane row

The Construction Industry Federation’s Tom Parlon. Photo: Mark Condren
The Construction Industry Federation’s Tom Parlon. Photo: Mark Condren

Fearghal O'Connor

Building companies may take trade unions to court to recover costs related to the crane drivers' dispute, the head of the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) has warned.

The dispute threatens to close the country's biggest building sites and CIF director-general Tom Parlon has said his members could resort to legal action to defend themselves against any wildcat picketing.

Builders at sites face potential fines from their clients if construction is held up by the dispute, he said.

Halting work at the biggest sites could cost hundreds of thousands of euro per site per day, although this would be mitigated somewhat by the fact that no workers would be paid on strike days, said Parlon.

He cited the example of the huge Capital Docks building earmarked by JP Morgan as a base for 1,000 staff.

"If there is a delay there, the building contractor will be fined and certainly we will be watching and taking action legally against any trade union that causes a delay and we will look to push on that particular expense. That is only fair," said Parlon.

He added: "I expect every contractor that suffers a loss as a result of wildcat picketing will do the same."

Crane drivers are seeking a wage increase and recently moved en masse from trade union Siptu to Unite.

"There are very strict time constraints on construction sites," said Parlon. "A strike next week would certainly have a big impact."

Sites run by major construction companies, such as Sisk, Cairn Homes, John Paul, and Duggan have already been closed by picketing, he said. The Labour Court is expected to rule on a new deal for drivers in the coming weeks that was previously negotiated by Siptu; however, some drivers have said they are unhappy with it.

Parlon said Siptu had sought a 15pc rise and that the CIF would accept whatever the court recommended. It is due to make its recommendations to the Minister for Enterprise within a matter of weeks, which will allow for a new agreement be put into legislation.

The expected recommended pay hike will come on top of a previously negotiated rise for the country's estimated 200 crane drivers.

"It caused uproar amongst the employers because we agreed to what is known as a two-hour 'greasing allowance'," said Parlon.

"Cranes now have automatic lubrication and so don't now actually have to be greased the way they once were. So this has effectively given the drivers 10 hours a week of pay for time they do not have to work. That's a 25pc increase that drivers negotiated for themselves through Siptu only in the last three months."

Parlon said that if Unite gets the up-to-40pc increase that he believes it is seeking, this could ultimately be reflected across the construction industry and increase overall construction costs by as much as 20pc.

Subsequent to the 'greasing deal', many of the crane drivers left Siptu to join Unite and Parlon said he had agreed to negotiate with Unite based on the same deal that had been negotiated with Siptu.

"Unite rejected that deal and immediately started picketing sites and that is where we are at," he said. The disruption included the so-called 'crane-flu' day that saw many sites closed for a day last month after drivers failed to show up for work.

"Unite has not even sent us a claim. They have written to us about our willingness to engage with them and it is clear they are having a battle with Siptu as to who should represent the drivers."

Parlon said that other building workers are suffering because of the dispute.

"Take the Capital Docks site. There are 350 workers being hit because six guys have an issue. Six guys who have already been offered a 25pc pay rise. I understand there is a lot of dissent from other unions."

Parlon took issue with a union claim that it takes six months to train to be a crane driver.

"Irish cranes are Mickey Mouse compared to New York or Dubai cranes," he said. "We have a maximum height of 12 or 15 stories. It is not rocket science to drive a crane here."

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