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ICTU says it has 'no role or function' in workers' calls to be released from ESB union

ICTU now says that only union members can make a complaint. However, it is the fact ESB workers are no longer union members that is in dispute.

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THE IRISH CONGRESS of Trade Unions (ICTU) has responded to a coordinated campaign of emails from disaffected ESB union members, and said that it has ‘no role or function’ in their dispute.

ICTU has recently been on the receiving end of an email campaign by ESB network technicians who wish to be allowed formally leave their union the TEEU (now Connect) in order that they may apply to join Siptu instead – a pre-requisite of any application to join the latter.

550 of those workers resigned from Connect from March 2017 after becoming disgruntled over the union’s perceived lack of performance when representing them in pay negotiations in January of that year.

In recent weeks, at least 100 of those workers have taken to emailing Connect systematically on a daily basis asking that the union acknowledge that they are no longer members. To this date, Connect has declined to do so. 

More recently, those workers have been emailing senior ICTU officials (including general secretary Patricia King) asking for the union to intercede in the dispute on their behalf. While the ESB workers insist that those emails number in the thousands, one ICTU official states that the number he has received since the start of September is merely 402.

ICTU is the umbrella organisation for Irish trade unions – both Connect and Siptu are among its members.

Email barrage

For several weeks, ICTU declined to respond to the email barrage, with a spokesperson telling TheJournal.ie last week that a response was not necessary as the congress was not being addressed directly, but rather was only being copied on those emails.

In the wake of that statement, the ESB workers have begun emailing ICTU directly (with the campaign having been greatly ramped up, according to ESB sources), which prompted the following belated response, seen by TheJournal.ie, from the congress last week:

ictu Text of ICTU's email response to the ESB workers last week

“Matters arising between union members and their union are matters for those parties. Congress has no role or function relating to same,” the response reads.

It should be noted that there is a provision in the Congress Constitution that provides for Congress to investigate complaints by groups of union members. However this facility is available to union members.

“In the current circumstances Congress has no role or function in these matters. I trust this clarifies the situation,” the message concludes.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie regarding this response, an ICTU spokesperson said that Congress can only deal with unions, not act as an arbiter for a dispute between members and their union.

“Congress is an organisation made up of unions. If you’re a member of Connect, then your membership is with them, not with us,” they said.

If you want to leave a union and go to another one, you can choose any union you like, but it’s a matter for that union whether or not they let you join.

They clarified that a group of union members, numbering more than one, can officially appeal in writing to ICTU’s appeals board, but said they’re “not sure if any of these people in Connect have contacted the board”.

The last point defines the problems presented by the situation – given the people who have resigned from Connect cannot receive confirmation at present as to whether or not they are in fact its members. 

Expelled 

Previously, at least 250 former Connect members who had resigned from that union successfully joined Siptu, only to be expelled at the request of Connect in July of this year, with Connect saying the workers were in violation of a contract (known as the TUF agreement) between the unions to prevent direct transfers between the two.

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 TUF agreement, despite the fact it initially accepted the workers following the mass exodus from Connect after March 2017. 

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

Meanwhile, 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.

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