Building workers win 10% pay rise — and continue fight for more

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The construction industry was decimated following the bursting of the Irish property bubble in 2007 and the 2008 banking crisis.

The crippling and unprecedented economic crisis resulted in the cessation of house construction and a postponement of key infrastructural projects across the island of Ireland. This resulted in many construction workers losing their jobs.

Those who retained their employment saw their income stagnate initially and then reduce in 2011 under a Labour Court recommendation by way of a 7.5% imposed pay cut. Also, the Registered Employment Agreement (REA) for the construction industry, which had protected terms and conditions since 1967, was also marginalised on foot of the 2013 ‘McGowan’ court judgement, which deemed such REA’s unconstitutional. SIPTU is continuing its engagement with employers though the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) with a view to bringing about a future REA. This is intended to address other terms and conditions not governed by the Sectoral Employment Order (SEO) which is pending. (see page1)

Over the last two and a half years, the construction industry has seen significant recovery, although it is largely concentrated in the cities and urban centers.

SIPTU membership in the construction sector has grown exponentially.

House building, although ramping up, remains slow in rural areas. The CIF commissioned report carried out by DKM Economic Consultants (Demand for Skills in Construction to 2020) which was publicised in December 2016, concluded that the construction industry was projected to:

a. Grow by 9% annually until 2020.

b. Invest €17.8bn in projects in 2017.

c. Sustain an additional 112,000 jobs up to 2020, with up to 27,600 jobs being created within the General Operative Grades.

Notwithstanding these optimistic projections, the shameful spectre of families having to live in hotel rooms and those left with no option but to sleep on the streets is an abomination and must be addressed with an accelerated approach to the building of social and affordable housing.

We have had enough ministerial rotation, talk and indeed procrastination on this basic human right!

I believe action by way of direct provision of housing by local authorities and a disincentives policy towards land-hoarding are clearly needed.

As of July 2017, SIPTU represents over 14,000 active construction general operative members, including crane operators. The issue of ‘representational rights’ for this particular category i.e. crane operators, who are an integral part of the General Operative negotiating unit, was investigated at a formal ICTU hearing involving SIPTU and Unite on 27th June, 2017. The outcome from this investigation is awaited and is expected shortly, following the July meeting of the ICTU executive.

The SIPTU Transport Energy Aviation and Construction (TEAC) Division through its revamped Construction Sector has set about improving the diminished terms and conditions of employment on a number of fronts.

We believe that worker solidarity between grades and within grades in the construction industry is crucial because of the volatile nature of such employment.

The current pay structure, in which all categories are based on a percentage of the craft worker rate, crystallises that solidarity. Collapsing it in the pursuit of short-term gain by any single category or entity would simply dismantle this hard won and important inter-grade solidarity, resulting in long-term pain for everybody.

Pay

  • Sectoral Employment Order (SEO) — SIPTU along with the other trade unions in the Construction Industry Committee (CIC) of ICTU, (BATU, OPATSI, TEEU and Unite) presented our Sectoral Employment Order (SEO) submission to the Labour Court on 26th June setting out minimum rates of pay, pensions, sick pay, and travel time. This approach, which was agreed by all the CIC unions, seeks to preserve the integrated pay structure involving all construction categories. The objective is to secure its enshrinement in a future SEO so as to protect organised employment against undercutting by non-union labour.
  • The Labour Court has now recommended new minimum rates of pay for enshrinement in a Sectoral Employment Order (SEO). These envisage a new craft rate of €18.93 per hour with general operative grades increasing on a pro rata basis and in line with existing relativities.
  • Pay Review for all Construction Workers — The original demand of the trade unions was for a 15% increase. We will continue to pursue the outstanding 5% and as of 13th June, SIPTU has formally proposed a complete review of the grading structure within the construction sector in the light of the changes which have occurred since it was put in place in 2000. This would afford all categories, including crane operators, an opportunity to have claims for improvements assessed on their merits, while preserving the concept of an integrated pay structure. All the unions represented on the ICTU CIC support this approach, except Unite. Unite has not opposed it but sought time to reflect upon it.
  • Crane Operators — In May 2017 and following months of negotiations with the CIF, SIPTU representatives secured an increase of 25% for all crane operators by way of a negotiated restorative two hour per day ‘Greasing Allowance Payment’, which has been applicable since 5th June 2017. This significant and well deserved increase has been welcomed by our crane operator members and implemented accordingly and importantly does not distort in any way the integrated pay structure involving all construction categories by way of basic pay rates.

SIPTU, through various forums including social media, has been falsely accused by some of seeking to restrict or indeed cut pay within the construction sector. The foregoing sets out the undisputed facts of the matter and no effort to create ‘fake news’ will succeed in contradicting the facts, of which our 14,000 active members are keenly aware.

The SIPTU Construction Sector and the TEAC Division will continue its unflinching support for Irish construction workers, who have suffered through the faults of others, for almost 10 years, and we look forward to not only reclaiming the lost ground of recent years, but to enhancing and improving pay, terms and conditions alongside a better and safer working environment for all construction workers in Ireland.

Greg Ennis is TEAC Divisional

Organiser

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