Calls for mediation in Liebherr dispute

Liebherr Container Crane factory, Killarney.
Liebherr Container Crane factory, Killarney.

Kevin Hughes

JOBS, Enterprise and Innovation Minister Richard Bruton has said the industrial relations machinery of the State is on standby to provide support in the ongoing dispute at Liebherr.

It follows last week's crucial SIPTU vote which returned a 60:40 split in favour of rejecting a Labour Court recommendation on back pay, subject to changed working practices.

Asked if he would get personally involved in negotiations between Liebherr management and SIPTU following the vote, Minister Bruton simply said the State's industrial relations bodies had "an excellent record" in resolving disputes.

"Long-standing industrial relations practice is for Ministers not to get directly involved in disputes as to do so runs the risk of politicising situations and makes finding solutions more difficult. I urge all parties to reflect and re-engage in discussions and I, together with my officials, are in ongoing contact with the IDA and the LRC," he told The Kerryman.

Government TD Brendan Griffin said he understood the minister's reluctance to get involved directly and he called for mediation.

"Maybe it would help if the minister's office look at appointing a mediator, not necessarily a high profile one, but when can you say that standard industrial relations have been exhausted?" he questioned.

The deputy said he had been in contact with approximately 20 Liebherr employees on the past two weeks.

"There is a message out there that the employees don't appreciate the importance of the company, that's nonsense, every employee acknowledges how good Liebherr has been for the area," he added.

It is understood that there has been correspondence between SIPTU and management this week but full discussions have not taken place following a vote that has put a question mark over all 670 jobs at the Fossa plant.

SIPTU representative Marie Kearney would not comment when contacted by The Kerryman, remarking that the situation is "delicately poised", while management could not be contacted. A company source said there was "still some road to go" before any compromise could be reached.

Meanwhile, Liebherr has shelved plans to recruit 30 new employees this month and is understood to have transferred up to 20 employees from its sister plants to Killarney.

It follows a four-year dispute at the factory culminating in SIPTU members last Wednesday voting to reject a Labour Court recommendation which would have resulted in a 2.5 per cent pay increase backdated to May 2012, subject to work practice changes which is key to the current dispute.

The matter had been referred to the Labour Court and its recommendations were accepted by management, although a statement said the company was re-evaluating its dependence on the Killarney plant.

Liebherr has said that the changes are part of the ongoing changes in the factory but SIPTU has labelled the company opportunistic. They claim the introduction of an 11 point plan would represent significant changes to their jobs - including bonus payments and obligatory holidays - and result in a significant loss of overtime.

Killarney Mayor Paddy Courtney has offered the local authority offices as a neutral venue for mediation. "If in any way we can offer our services such as a venue, we will help," the mayor said.