15 February 2001 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

Carpenters strike challenges PPF


The Building and Allied Trades Union (BATU) has been accused of breaching the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (PPF), as an unnoficial strike by carpenters in Dublin enters its second week.

The carpenters downed tools to picket nine building sites across Dublin last Thursday, 8 February, calling for a rise in their basic rate of pay. Dennis Farrelly, Dublin Regional Organiser for BATU, says that ideally he wants everybody off the sites in support.

Meanwhile, the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) has reacted angrily to the dispute, warning that they will pull out of scheduled talks tomorrow, Friday 16 Febuary, and advising their members to lay off striking workers.

They also wrote a letter to Bertie Ahern, claiming that BATU is in breach of the PPF deal and calling on its National Implementation Body to intervene. BATU has been the driving force behind trade union action in the construction industry for some time. Dennis Farrelly admits, however, that in terms of numbers, his union would be weaker on the carpentry front.

``An English based union, UCAT (the Union of Contruction, Allied Trades and Technicians) holds something around 60 per cent of carpenters, while we would have about 40 per cent. While we would certainly have no problem with where they're from, it is questionable whether they are a bit removed from the industry over here.''

Carpenters generally work with small employers and subcontactors, leaving them ``fragmented'', Farrelly says. With nine carpenters to every bricklayer in Dublin, their potential for unionised clout would be greatly increased if they were directly employed, he believes.

This is probably the reason SISK, a large Dublin-based construction company that employs a lot of carpenters directly, was chosen as a target for the unofficial action.

Farrelly says that claims by the CIF that BATU were seeking a £1,000 per week pay claim for a basic of 39 hours for carpenters, were derived from SISK and not from BATU members. SISK's new Managing Director, Tom Costelloe, had ``done more damage to his own argument'' when he released a press statement making this claim, said Farrelly.

Farrelly says that a resolution to the immediate dispute with SISK is feasible, and that ``common sense will prevail''. But the underlying problem of insecurity for construction workers is something his trade union plans to tackle head on.

At present, carpenters and bricklayers in the 26 Counties, normally receive wages in excess of the nationally agreed £9.72 per hour legal minimum. Bricklayers in Dublin currently receive up to £25 per hour. The problem isn't so much the wages they are currently receiving, but that the £9.72 safety net will prove too low if the current economic boom turns to bust.

Farrelly says that solidarity amongst union leaders is needed if a reasonable hike in the basic rate is to be achieved. This will be difficult, he believes: ``Workers on the ground are generally fairly focused, but generally the trade union leaderships aren't the best. The grassroots are ahead of the leadership.''

According to Farrelly, the spreading of rumours about BATU's negotiating licence being in danger of being revoked is a sure sign that the uncoming battle with the CIF will be tough. I

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1