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The dispute centres around Ireland's two 999 emergency call service centres in Meath and Donegal. Alamy Stock Photo
999 Problems

Sinn Féin demands operator of 999 call centres enter talks with staff to avert strike action

Staff have complained of having to ‘bid’ for holidays 18 months in advance in some cases.

SINN FÉIN HAS called on the operator of Ireland’s 999 emergency call service to engage in talks with workers and their union, saying that the dispute could cause “disruption” to the vital service.

Louise O’Reilly, the party’s spokesperson on enterprise, trade and employment, said that BT Ireland had shown a lack of “maturity” in its refusal to attend non-binding talks at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

The Dublin Fingal TD has urged the government to intervene and instruct the company to engage with workers who “deal with life or death calls on a daily basis”, and ensure that can strike action can be averted.

Members of the Communications Workers Union (CWU) in the workforce voted for industrial action late last year due to the dispute.

As reported yesterday, workers at the country’s two Emergency Call Answering Service (ECAS) centres have called for mediators to intervene over a series of workplace problems.

These allegedly include some staff having to “bid” for holidays 18 months in advance.

The centres are based in Navan, Co Meath and in Ballyshannon, Co Donegal.

BT Ireland has rejected the WRC invitation to resolve the dispute and has insisted it has a good record of dealing with staff issues.

The company uses an internal forum for workplace issues and refuses to speak to trade unions for collective bargaining talks.

This forum, called BT Voices, is chaired by the managing director and sees Ecas operators and other employees across the business attend to discuss their workplace.

Conciliation talks at the WRC, which are not legally binding, are sometimes used to help settle disputes between employers and their staff.

The 999 call service is provided under a State contract by BT Ireland. However, due to how its configured, taxpayers’ money is not used to pay BT Ireland; instead it receives payment from telecom operators for each 999 call placed by a member of the public.

Speaking today, Dublin Fingal deputy O’Reilly said the 999 service provides a vital public service and deals with life or death calls on a daily basis.

“Ensuring these workers have decent pay and conditions is paramount to guaranteeing the 999 service delivers for all who need it,” she said.

“Unfortunately, despite being contracted to provide a public service, BT Ireland refuse to engage with the workers recognised trade union, the Communication Workers Union (CWU), and refuse to attend hearings at the Workplace Relations Commission,” O’Reilly added.

The actions of BT Ireland are an affront to the industrial relations machinery of the State and could result in the disruption of the vital 999 service. I am calling on the government to intervene and instruct BT Ireland to engage with the workers and the CWU and attend the WRC so issues of conflict can be addressed, and strike action averted.

O’Reilly said that workers had taken a “mature decision” by showing willingness to resolve the issues through dialogue at the WRC.

But she added: “The maturity shown by the workers and the CWU has not been matched by BT Ireland, who have ignored an invite to talks at the WRC.”

Last week, BT Ireland said it granted a 14% pay rise given to Ecas staff last year, although the CWU has claimed that the pay boost occurred as it had already been granted to the company’s British and Northern Ireland staff, as part of negotiations with the CWU’s British counterpart.

In a statement responding to today’s urgings from Sinn Féin, BT Ireland claimed that “false information” has been disseminated about the service and insisted it has an “excellent track record” at delivering on the public service contract and as an employer.

“..Should the CWU Ireland proceed with their hugely disappointing and unwarranted industrial action, we have robust and tested contingency plans in place to operate this emergency call answering service to the high standards expected of us by the public,” the statement added.

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