Strikes, disputes and last-minute deals: 2016 in industrial relations

From the threatened garda strike to frequent Luas stoppages, the WRC and Labour Court were kept busy this year...

Luas, drivers, strike, Dublin, pay claim, SIPTU, Transdev, Owen Reidy, WRC, talks

Inactive Luas trams at the Red Cow depot | Image: RollingNews.ie

2016 has proven to be an eventful and unforgettable year for many reasons.

In Irish terms, 2016 may not have been quite as dramatic as the events experienced by our US and British neighbours, but it has still proven to be an often dramatic 12 months.

Certainly the general election back in February led to one of the most unusual governments in the State's history, and it remains uncertain whether Enda Kenny's minority Government can last a full term.

One major Irish trend in 2016 - and one that is likely to continue into 2017 and beyond - was the volume of industrial relations disputes - from the threatened garda strike to the days of Luas stoppages. With much talk about the economic recovery, it is no surprise that workers across the private and public sectors alike are starting to fight back after years of austerity.

As the new year looms, there is rising tension over the 'critical' situation at Bus Éireann - while the issue of public pay will undoubtedly make headlines again after talks planned for January. A planned ballot at Irish Rail was called off, but there's still uncertainty over the situation.

Let's take a look back at some of the major disputes of the year, and the ones that haven't been resolved yet...

Luas

The first half of the year was dominated by Luas strikes. A pay dispute between drivers and Luas operator Transdev led to 12 days of strike action. The associated disruption led to some commuters opting to walk along the temporarily abandoned Luas tracks.

Image: RollingNews.ie

Resolved? Yes. In June Luas drivers voted by 108 votes to 56 to accept a Labour Court recommended deal over pay amd conditions. It included wage increases of 15.6% to 18.3% for drivers between this year and September 2020, and a 2.5% increment for long service after three years.

Dublin Bus

Soon after the Luas dispute was resolved, tensions intensified at Dublin Bus over pay at the public transport company. Dublin Bus workers opted to push ahead with several strike days that again caused disruption for commuters in the capital.

Resolved? Yes. Bus drivers with SIPTU voted by 58% to 42% in favour of WRC proposals, while all other grades approved the deal by majorities of between 70% to 90%. NBRU members accepted the deal by 79%.

The agreement included an annual pay increase of 11.6%, and led to the cancellation of eight planned strike days.

Image: RollingNews.ie

Gardaí

The garda dispute proved to be one of the most high profile of the year, with two garda associations - the Garda Representative Association (GRA) and Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) - voting to take part in several unprecedented strike days in November over pay and conditions.

The strike days were deferred only hours before the first planned stoppage, after a deal was agreed at the Labour Court.

Resolved? Yes. This week, members of both agencies agreed to accept the Labour Court proposals. The deal - estimated to cost around €50m a year - includes measures such as the restoration of rent allowance for new recruits, and a €500 increase in the allowance from January 1st.

The AGSI, meanwhile, has warmly welcomed the fact that garda associations will soon have full access to workplace relations mechanisms, which had been one of the union's core demands.

Secondary school teachers

The Association of Secondary School Teachers Ireland (ASTI) is now the only major union to have not signed up to the Lansdowne Road Agreement. Members of the union have continued calling for equal pay and conditions for its members.

After announcing their plans to withdraw from supervision and substitution duties, the 17,500 teachers escalated their action and announced plans for six strike days.

Teachers attached to the union went on strike on November 8th.

Image: RollingNews.ie

Resolved? No. Industrial action has been deferred while members consider a new set of pay proposals from the Department of Education.

However, the ASTI's Central Executive Council is recommending that members reject the deal.

Ambulance staff

In June, ambulance service staff voted in favour of industrial action over a dispute related to their conditions of employment. The chairman of the Irish Ambulance Representative Council said: "Our members have not received any recognition for the sacrifices they have made, and it is now time for senior management at the HSE to deliver improved terms and conditions as well as a fully resourced service that is of a standard that the public deserves."

Resolved? Yes. More than 600 new staff will be recruited by the National Ambulance Service as part of an investment package agreed at the WRC. The deal also included "securing compensation for loss of earnings" for members.

The public sector

The garda deal saw increased calls for a new public pay agreement, despite the Lansdowne Road Agreement have only come into effect earlier this year.

While ministers have insisted the garda deal was within the confines of that agreement, unions including SIPTU suggested the Government should announce an early date for fresh public sector pay negotiations.

Resolved? Temporarily. SIPTU's planned ballot of public sector members was deferred after the Government invited unions to talks on 'anomalies' arising from the garda pay recommendations. The discussions are set to conclude by the end of January.

The Department of Public Expenditure has stressed that the Public Service Pay Commission (PSPC) is due to deliver its initial report in the first half of 2017.

"[Minister Donohoe] confirmed that once this report is available, the Government intends to initiate negotiations on a successor Collective Agreement ahead of Budget 2018 considerations," the department said in a statement.

No doubt we will be hearing much more about public pay over the next 12 months...