Sunday 25 September 2016

Numbers in dispute soar from 500 to 38,000 in five years

Anne-Marie Walsh

Published 19/03/2016 | 02:30

The biggest industrial disputes since 2010
The biggest industrial disputes since 2010

The number of workers involved in industrial disputes soared from just over 500 to almost 38,000 in the last five years.

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An analysis of official figures reveals that workers are becoming bolder about fighting against cuts, making claims for pay hikes and looking for wages and conditions they lost during the Recession.

A series of public transport strikes have dominated with industrial action on the Luas and Dart still a threat despite the agreement of proposals to end the tram service row.

The row at the Luas is over a pay claim that is much higher than any lodged since the economic crisis, and is set to equal up to 18pc in less than three years for some drivers.

And the threat of industrial action is looming in other companies, including Tesco, and the education sector.

Dart workers have balloted for industrial action over the introduction of a more frequent service and are seeking a 25pc pay hike following a proposed pay hike for Luas drivers.

Expressway workers voted overwhelmingly in favour of action if Bus Éireann imposes cuts under a new plan to "secure a viable future".

In the education sector, the TUI has balloted members on strike action on a host of issues including understaffing and the "precarious" employment status of academic staff, which already led to a 24-hour strike in the institutes of technology last month.

In addition, there could be industrial action in schools in the autumn if members of the union support motions at their conference to stop working extra hours agreed under the Croke Park deal.

The national teachers' union, the INTO, has also issued a directive to its members not to cooperate with school self-evaluation from April 4 in protest at a ban on promotion in schools.

In the retail sector, Mandate has warned Tesco it will ballot its workforce of more than 14,000 for industrial action if it forges ahead with plans to cut 1,000 long-serving workers' pay by over 16pc by April 18.

Over the last few years, disputes have become bigger and involved larger numbers of staff, which has had a knock on increase in the days lost to industrial action.

A total of 511 workers were involved in disputes in 2010, but this rose to 11,924 workers in 2013, and 37,760 last year. The number of days lost due to industrial action increased from 6,602 to 32,964 in the same timeframe.

This sharp rise in staff involvement in disputes comes as industrial relations heavyweights predict pay claims are likely to surge if economic growth continues and more employers return to profit.

The leader of the largest union, Siptu General President Jack O'Connor, said the time is ripe for a national deal on pay.

And chief state mediator Kieran Mulvey has warned the incoming government it will have to deal with a "slow ticking time-bomb" as public servants seek more pay rises.

Mr O'Connor said there was no point in calling for a national pay agreement if Fine Gael remains dominant in government, but predicted demands for pay rises and catch-up claims for lost income will spiral.

He said his union negotiators will demand wage hikes averaging in the region of 3pc to 5pc this year.

The union chief said it was in his over 300,000 members' interest that there would be a return to some form of national dialogue, following the collapse of social partnership during the crisis.

"There will be a dramatic escalation in pay claims," he predicted.

"That has always been the experience in the aftermath of a long pay standstill."

Irish Independent

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