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Workers agree to suspend strike at Dublin Port for talks with company about pay and safety

72 hours of work stoppages were due to commence from Monday.

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EMPLOYEES IN A company based at Dublin Port have agreed to suspend strike action planned for Monday to allow for talks between management and their union representatives.

Earlier this month Siptu members employed by Doyle Shipping Group (DSG) at Dublin Port voted in favour of industrial action in a dispute concerning their pay, terms and conditions of employment and safety concerns within their workplace.

Last week the union formally notified management of the workers’ intention to take industrial action in the form of rolling 72-hour work stoppages from Monday, 19 July.

The union has said it is seeking to secure decent wages and has expressed concern about the safety of workers at the port.

DSG’s managing director Pat Brennan told The Times earlier this week that the company “operates rigorous health and safety policies, procedures and training at its operations in Dublin Port”.

Siptu had accused the company of refusing to negotiate with representatives on these issues, but an agreement has now been reached to suspend the industrial action to allow discussions with the company to begin next week.

DSG provides a number of services at Dublin Port, including the loading and off-loading of cargo.

In a recent parliamentary question, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald drew attention to concerns about safety, noting that an employee at the company was fatally injured while working at the port in May this year. The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is now investigating the circumstances of the worker’s death. 

Speaking to The Times this week, Pat Brennan declined to comment further due to the ongoing HSA investigation. 

McDonald also highlighted a case last year in which Doyle Shipping Group pleaded guilty to failing to manage work activities in a way to ensure the safety and health of employees following the death of one of the company’s workers, James Byrne, at Dublin Port in 2018.

The man was killed instantly when a six-metre steel column fell on top of him shortly after he had been using a blow torch to separate it from a larger metal structure at the McKearns Yard, at Ocean Pier. An investigation was carried out by the HSA, which subsequently brought charges against the Doyle Shipping Group Unlimited.

In passing sentence, Judge Pauline Codd said the employer breached its obligation to ensure employees are not put at unnecessary hazard. She said the absence of planning the task meant that equipment was not utilised as it should have been.

The judge said the mitigating factors in this case were the guilty plea, the co-operation with the investigation, the good safety record and lack of previous convictions, the “significant expenditure” to ensure this does not happen again and the remorse shown by continuing to pay the victim’s salary.

Industrial dispute

In his response to Mary Lou McDonald earlier this month, Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Damien English said his office was aware of the recent fatality and that the HSA investigation is ongoing.

“Ireland’s system of industrial relations is, essentially, voluntary in nature and responsibility for the resolution of industrial disputes between employers and workers, rests in the first instance with the employer, the workers and their representatives,” he said.

“I would encourage employers and worker representatives including trade unions to fully engage with each other on any issues of concern in the workplace especially issues around workplace health and safety.”

Following the death of the worker in May this year, Siptu wrote to the Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan seeking a meeting to discuss concerns about health and safety at ports and docks in Ireland.

The union also made contact with the HSA, with Siptu division organiser Karan O’Loughlin commenting that it was “time to look at the number and causes of injuries and fatalities in our ports and docks with a view to developing an industry wide solution”. 

There were 17 fatal work-related incidents within Irish ports that were reported to the HSA between 2011 and 2020, 5 of which occurred in 2018. There were also 24 non-fatal incidents reported within the same period.

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“It is no longer feasible to deal with safety on a company-by-company basis as this is an industry problem,” she said.

“All stakeholders need to be part of that solution, including the workers whose lives could be at risk if the required changes are not made.”

In response to a query from The Journal, the HSA confirmed it met with Siptu representatives last month to discuss health and safety at Dublin Port. 

“The authority’s Programme of Work 2021 calls out docks, transport and storage among areas of key focus,” it said.

“Engagement with stakeholders, such as the above, helps to inform the authority’s ongoing activities in this regard.”

As well as worker safety, Siptu representatives will be raising a number of other issues with management next week, including terms of employment and pay.

Siptu has said these workers are “among the lowest paid” in Dublin Port. It said staff, through their union representatives, had, before the ballot for industrial action, tried to engage management in negotiations to secure decent wages and conditions of employment. 

Doyle Shipping Group has been contacted for comment. 

Additional reporting by Tadgh McNally 

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