Date Released: 28 February 2013
The Technical Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) has referred the ten day long strike at St James’s Hospital, Dublin, to the Labour Court under Section 20(1) of the Industrial Relations Act 1969. The referral means that the Labour Court will investigate the matter whether or not management representatives attend. The union has agreed to be bound by the findings of the Court.
Management is threatening all TEEU members at the hospital with disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal although the Health and Safety Authority has upheld a complaint by the TEEU and advised the hospital management that it must make safe place of work procedures a priority. It has told management it must confirm to the Authority how it intends to do by March 8th, in order to avoid prosecution.
The dispute arose after TEEU members were suspended on October 24th. In a letter today to Niall McAlwee, Technical Services Manager at the hospital, TEEU General Secretary Eamon Devoy points out that his members were acting in accordance with Section 27 of the Safety, Health & Welfare at Work Act, 2005. The Act ‘specifically excluded their employer from taking any form of disciplinary action against them’.
In the letter Eamon Devoy said, ‘An independent Electrical Engineer/Safety Consultant has confirmed that the reasons given by hospital management to justify the suspension of our members are not valid.’ He added that, ‘Suspension of a number of our electrician members for the last 18 weeks, while taking safety measures to ensure that they have in place a Safe System of Work and their work colleagues have a Safe Place of Work, is beyond belief.’
Although the Health and Safety Authority upheld the TEEU hospital management has pressed ahead with the disciplinary process "up to and including dismissal", which has now become the central issue in the dispute. Management’s refusal to engage in discussions to resolve the current dispute, including rejection of a Labour Relations Commission request that it attend the Labour Court, has led the TEEU to invoke Section 20(1) of the Industrial Relations Act 1969.
The union has provided emergency cover during the dispute and even extended it beyond the usual parameters. However it has warned management that any attempt to bring in outside contractors to carry out other work in other areas could lead to an escalation of the dispute.
“The management’s insistence on applying contingency arrangements unilaterally on the basis that it is covered by HSEA agreements rings very hollow when the fundamental objective of the Framework is disputes resolution. The document clearly states that when agreement is not possible a speedy reference should be made to the Labour Court; a fundamental requirement that management has chosen to ignore.”