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Saturday 27 May 2017

Wage cuts threaten to end builders' pay pact

Breda Heffernan

Breda Heffernan

THE future of the agreement that set pay rates between construction workers and employers for more than a decade could be in doubt if workers refuse to accept a 7.5pc wage cut, union leaders warned.

Seven construction unions will decide over the coming weeks, either through a ballot of members or a decision taken by their executive council, whether or not to accept the salary reduction recommended by the Labour Relations Court (LRC).

The 7.5pc cut will mean the average construction worker's hourly rate of €17 will fall by about €1.27.

Employers' body, the Construction Industry Federation (CIF), had been seeking a cut of up to 20pc and had threatened to withdraw from the Registered Employment Agreement (REA) unless the court ordered a "realistic wage cut".

However, employers have since indicated they are willing to accept the recommendation. Following a meeting of unions in Dublin yesterday, Fergus Whelan, industrial officer with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, said it will be difficult for workers to accept a wage cut. However, the future of the long-running REA is at stake.

"Many workers have accepted pay cuts in order to stay in employment, but most of these workers are already unemployed, so there's no guarantee of employment.

"There's also the future of the REA at stake here, so whether we're going to have an industry which is done by agreement or is done by exploitation and abuse -- that's what's at stake and we'll know in the next couple of weeks. If we can't accept it, then I do think the agreement is in danger," he added.

Delayed

Mr Whelan said union leaders had delayed making a decision on salary reductions until employers indicated whether or not they would accept it.

He said that in accepting the court's recommendation, employers had "put their best foot forward".

The seven unions -- SIPTU, UCATT, BATU, TEEU, Unite and unions representing sheet metal workers and plasterers -- will decide separately in the coming weeks if they will back the recommendation or not. An overall decision on the matter is expected by mid-October.

"It's going to be extremely difficult, even if one wanted to, to get people to agree to a pay cut where there's no guarantee of employment," said Mr Whelan.

"There are other aspects of it, in relation to compliance, and we have a fair degree of agreement with the employers at this stage as to how -- if the agreement does exist going forward -- how we can ensure that everybody complies with its terms," said Mr Whelan

"But we need some clarity around those issues and we're going back to our Joint National Industrial Council, which is under the chairmanship of Kevin Foley of the LRC, to try and tease those matters out," he added.

Irish Independent

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