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ICTU in receipt of 'over 1,000 emails a week' asking for ESB workers to be released from union

A spokesperson for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) says it does not have to respond to those mails because it is merely copied on them and is not the intended recipient.

shutterstock_1038834505 Source: Shutterstock/Kichigin

THE IRISH CONGRESS of Trade Unions (ICTU) is being copied on over 1,000 emails a week from ESB workers calling to be officially released from their union, according to those workers.

Of 500 ESB workers who resigned from their union the TEEU in March 2017 over dissatisfaction with its representation, more than 100 have been sending at least two emails a day (one in the morning, one in the afternoon) in the past fortnight in a coordinated effort to get the union to acknowledge that they are indeed no longer members.

Those members have now taken to copying the general secretary of ICTU (the umbrella organisation for Irish trade unions) Patricia King together with other officials into those emails in an attempt to break the impasse by involving a higher authority.

ICTU has thus far declined to respond to those emails.

From March 2017, at least 550 network technicians with the State electricity provider resigned from their union the TEEU (Technical Electrical and Engineering Union – now known as Connect) citing dissatisfaction with how the union had represented them in pay talks in January of that year.

At least 250 of those workers then joined sister union Siptu only to be expelled from it at the request of Connect in July 2017. At present, 500 ESB workers are without a union.

The current email drama surrounds their attempts to join Siptu once more.

‘We are not being asked to do anything’

ICTU told TheJournal.ie in July 2018 that no complaint had been made to Congress (of which both Connect and Siptu are members) regarding Siptu’s expulsion of the technicians – a position it has now formally reiterated.

9271 false self-employment_90529980 General secretary of ICTU Patricia King Source: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

An ICTU spokesperson meanwhile said that Congress does not have to reply to the emails it is receiving as its members are merely copied via cc on those messages, as opposed to being addressed directly.

“We haven’t received hundreds of emails. We’re receiving emails but in the main, all the mails, are addressed to TEEU. Congress does not respond to emails that we are not the subject matter of,” they said.

We are not being asked to do anything in the emails.

Certain recent messages, dating from the past 10 days and seen by TheJournal.ie, do in fact appear to address ICTU directly.

With so many workers now operating outside a union, forthcoming talks between the ESB and unions over work practices are said to be in jeopardy, as any vote may be subject to legal challenge given the number of workers who would be ineligible to cast a ballot.

Months of acrimony

The former Connect members’ recent attempts to get the union to acknowledge they are no longer members is borne from the belief Siptu is now in a position to accept them.

Siptu has repeatedly officially denied this. It claims it cannot do so as it is bound by the Trade Union Federation [TUF] agreement between itself and Connect which prohibits the transfer of members from one to the other.

The former Connect members say that TUF does not apply to them as they have resigned from the union, and are not seeking a direct transfer.

Those members began asking for confirmation from Connect that they had in fact left it. They also invoked the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by asking that all their personal data be erased from Connect’s records in an attempt to rubberstamp the fact they no longer have an affiliation with the union.

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

‘Contractual obligations’

Connect has declined to remove all the personal data of those members, citing ‘contractual obligations’.

It has also ignored requests to acknowledge that its former members have officially resigned from its membership (Connect was queried on the matters detailed in this article but did not comment). 

“As you are aware I have made an application to join Siptu,” the text of the generic mail being sent reads.

I am asking that you release me from TEEU/Connect so that I may join my chosen union. Can you please confirm that I am released from TEEU/Connect at your earliest convenience? 

It’s understood that ESB management is growing increasingly uneasy regarding the breakdown of communications between the unions and NTs.

An ESB spokesperson declined to comment directly on the impasse, saying only that “union membership issues are a matter for the trade unions and are not a matter for the company”.

It’s believed that Connect has recently sought to hold meetings with members and former members around the country in an effort to persuade them to stay with (or rejoin) the union.

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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