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'It's Catch 22': Former members frustrated as main ESB union refuses to confirm that they've left

Former Connect members numbering in ‘the hundreds’ were recently expelled by Siptu at the request of its sister union.

shutterstock_1038834505 (1) Source: Shutterstock

A LARGE PROPORTION of ESB workers who left the main electrical union in the country over dissatisfaction with how it was representing their interests have asked that union for confirmation that they are no longer members in order to allow them apply to join (or rejoin in many circumstances) sister organisation Siptu.

However, Connect (formerly TEEU – Technical Electrical and Engineering Union) has thus far declined to provide that confirmation, and has instead said its former members must first apply to join the other union before any communication can be held between the two organisations, a response that has been greeted with derision by some of its ex-members.

Those former Connect members say this is an impossible request, as before they can apply to join Siptu they need to confirm that they are no longer in another union, leading to a vicious circle of dependent requests that cannot be satisfied.

Connect was queried repeatedly about the various matters outlined in this article. A full response had not been received from the union at the time of publication.

The union’s general secretary Paddy Kavanagh did answer a call from TheJournal.ie. ”We don’t comment on untruths, we’ll leave it at that,” he said, without responding to any specific question.

2 Paddy Kavanagh, general secretary of Connect / TEEU Source: LinkedIn

“It’s just a game that they’re playing, it’s Catch 22, a situation where we can’t win,” one former TEEU member told TheJournal.ie regarding the union’s response.

The issue has arisen after 18 months of acrimony between Connect and its members and former members in the wake of the workers’ acceptance of a pay agreement with the ESB in January 2017, at Connect’s urging.

Aftermath

The aftermath of those pay talks saw 550 of the union’s network technician (NT) members leave en masse in protest at the agreement (which many believe will introduce a two-tier payscale at the State company, a red-line issue for many union members – the agreement had gone to four union ballots before eventually passing).

At least 250 of those former Connect members eventually joined Siptu, before their expulsion from that organisation at Connect’s request (it claimed that its members joining Siptu would be a breach of the two organisations’ TUF [Trade Union Federation] agreement, which prohibits direct transfers between the two) in July 2018. 

Now, in order to break the current deadlock, the former Connect members are looking to invoke the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in order to gain confirmation that they have indeed left their old union.

The current impasse has resulted from the belief of some ESB workers that Siptu would now be willing to readmit the members it had expelled.

A Siptu spokesperson denied to TheJournal.ie that the situation has changed in any way, and said that the union remains unwilling to accept the ESB workers it expelled as recently as July, regardless of whatever Connect do.

“No, nothing has changed,” the spokesperson said.

Those who had left Connect in the first place from March of last year claimed that no breach of the TUF agreement had occurred as they had voluntarily resigned from that union and ceased paying their monthly subscription, rather than simply transferring to Siptu.

Request confirmation

Last Tuesday, 4 September, more than 250 members and former members of Connect sent an identical email, seen by TheJournal.ie, to Connect’s regional secretary requesting confirmation that they are no longer in that union.

“I have been requested to provide confirmation that I am not or have not been a former member of the TEEU/Connect,” that mail said.

Can you provide same at your earliest convenience.

File Pics Staff at the ESB have voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action in a row over a 1.6 billion deficit in the company pension scheme. Source: Gareth Chaney/Rollingnews.ie

In response, Connect said that each member “will be required to indicate… as to whether you are or have been a member of that union or any other trade union”.

Once that was done, the response said, “the union you are seeking to join will write to Connect seeking a clearance”.

I trust the above clarifies the process.

In order to force the issue, Connect’s former members have invoked the GDPR, which came into force on 25 May this year.

Previously, when resigning from Connect in the wake of the pay talks between the union and the ESB in January 2017, those members who were leaving requested that all their personal data be expunged from Connect’s records.

This was done so as to ensure that it be clear the members had resigned from the union, as opposed to transferring directly to Siptu, in order to avoid falling foul of the TUF agreement.

However, GDPR and the legislation giving action to it within Irish law (the Data Protection Act 2018) dictates that no body may hold or process a citizen’s personal data without their permission, the fines for a breach of which can amount to as high as €20 million.

GDPR

As recently as June, former members of Connect were corresponding with the union requesting confirmation that their data had been removed from the organisation’s files, with no such confirmation having been received at the time.

Under GDPR, a body has a period of one month to accede to such a data request.

shutterstock_402537220 Source: Shutterstock

It’s unclear whether or not Connect has a privacy statement, which all bodies which retain data are obliged to do under GDPR. The union has not responded to a request from this website to confirm whether such a statement exists. 

Meanwhile, it’s understood that Connect is seeking to hold meetings with members and former members around the country this week in an effort to persuade them to stay with the union.

It recently emerged that an additional 200 ESB technicians that were originally with Siptu prior to the influx of former TEEU members last year are now intent on leaving that organisation in solidarity with the other workers who were expelled.

However, that move is not expected to happen before a crucial vote on work practices within the company, due to take place in the next month, in order to leave all members entitled to a vote.

Connect/TEEU’s general secretary Paddy Kavanagh meanwhile was the subject of an attempted motion of no confidence by members in March 2017 signed by more than 50% of the ESB NTs who were members of the union at the time of the controversial pay talks in January of that year.

In the wake of the no confidence motion being tabled but not considered by the union, the exodus of ESB workers began from the TEEU.

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