Engineering firm H A O’Neil has called on the trade union to return to talks to resolve a dispute over travel allowances after the company was granted an interim injunction preventing a one-day strike that had been planned for March 31st.
The union previously picketed construction sites at Intel in Leixlip and Pfizer at Grange Castle during a one-day stoppage earlier this month but the second scheduled strike will not now proceed as planned.
On Thursday, the union said it was disappointed with the outcome of the High Court hearing which senior Unite official Tom Fitzgerald described as “an attack on the fundamental human right to strike”.
“Unite is taking legal advice and examining all options for appealing this ruling, including taking our case to Europe,” he said.
The union would continue in the meantime, he said, to seek ways to pursue the claim which relates to the restoration of a portion of a travel allowance the company argues was incorporated into basic pay more than a decade ago.
“It is unacceptable that many construction workers – like other workers throughout Ireland – are not earning enough to be able to afford to buy the houses they build,” said Mr Fitzgerald.
The company, which is part of the Jones Engineering Group, said industry body, the Mechanical Engineering & Building Services Contractors Association (MEBSCA), “is the correct forum to deal with any union concerns around pay or benefits across the industry”.
During the hearing, the union had argued that it had exhausted the relevant grievance procedures and had been left with no option but to resort to industrial action as it was in dispute with the company.
Ms Justice Miriam O’Regan found, however, that the company had been “effectively singled out” and that, while the claim at the heart of the dispute had been argued extensively on behalf of the roughly 11,000 workers in the sector and referred to the Labour Court, which concluded it was not justified, the manner in which H A O’Neil was “targeted” and 190 staff there balloted was “completely different”.
Afterwards, H A O’Neil said in a statement: “We remain committed to our employees as a leader in the industry. We are proud of our track record of positive and constructive engagement with our employees, and we will continue to support them in this way.”
MEBSCA said a recent pay agreement reached with the union brought basic pay for the workers in question to roughly €1,030 per week and that the travel allowance claim would be equivalent to almost 13 per cent on top of that if paid. “This claim is simply unsustainable and comes at a time when material and energy cost inflation is having a considerable impact on the construction industry,” it said.