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Hospital strike over these sorts of issues is crazy

Let's get one thing straight from the outset. There is nothing inherently evil about union leaders balloting their members to acquire better pay and conditions, or indeed to consider strike action. It's called exercising rights and often, it works.

However, in the midst of the worst global recession since the 1930s, here's a thought: if you're a union leader it's not a great idea to instruct your members to engage in work stoppages because you sincerely believe they are the only people alive who can set reset fire alarms or ring Dublin Fire Brigade if there's a fire.

Yet this is exactly what members of the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) are doing today by putting pickets on St James's Hospital.

Their leaders advise today that this will only be the first "of a series of stoppages over management moves to reduce the role of electricians on site".


It is important to remove spin from fact in situations such as these. Just what are the electricians concerned about? It seems management representatives "threatened" to remove key duties from them earlier this year including the handing over of fire alarms to security staff. These new personnel would have tasks that include resetting fire alarms, replacing broken glass units and coordinating call outs of Dublin Fire Brigade.

Now I'm no electrician but my guess is that any properly trained person could happily take care of these jobs. What particular electrical skill is required to lift up the phone, dial 999 and shout "fire" I wonder?

It seems the TEEU members are objecting to these proposals primarily because electricians at the hospital have "always maintained and carried out activities involving Fire Alarms."

This is an interesting argument based as it is on the premise that if a job has always been done a certain way by a "qualified" person it should always continue to be so. This, however, rules out the not insignificant matter of technological advancement, not to mention the industrial revolution. Denial is not just a river in Egypt as they might say in certain parts of Dublin.

Hopeless arguments are one thing but belligerence is another and the TEEU have it in spades.


"The hospital seems ready to ram the changes through any way", said TEEU Regional Secretary Ian McDonnell without any hint of irony. Yet the greatest sin of management above all others was hesitancy.

Apparently they "dithered" over confirming a date with the Labour Relations Commission for a conciliation conference and then introduced further changes in the Fire Alarm protocol. Unforgiveable.

One might have thought that just for one moment the TEEU would have considered carefully what they were urging their members to do.

Work stoppages in any economic climate are generally self-defeating but in times of galloping recession they are utter suicide.

Had the management of St James Hospital been unilaterally withholding pay, failing to comply with health and safety legislation or perpetuating a policy of systematic bullying, the public might have some sympathy with a workforce who had nowhere to turn notwithstanding the economic climate.

However this has not been the case, and to instruct members to down tools at ever-increasing frequency because they are no longer required to be the sole liaison persons with the Dublin Fire Brigade is insane.


This is gritty and very real 2010, not the lazy hazy days of the strike-filled 1970s, where copping out was a national pastime in Ireland.

TEEU leaders need to wake up and smell the fuse box -- before they get a shock of another kind.

John O'Keeffe is a criminologist and law lecturer