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ESB union refusing to erase ex-members data over 'contractual obligations'

There is no obvious end in sight to the membership saga involving Connect and its ex-members.

2017 Hurricane Ophelia Storms Aftermaths Source: Rollingnews.ie

ESB UNION CONNECT is refusing to erase the personal data of its former members after those members requested that it do so in line with the EU’s strict data protection guidelines.

Some hundreds of disgruntled former Connect members have sought for their data to be erased in order that they might join Connect’s sister union Siptu.

The request comes after over 18 months of acrimony between Connect (formerly TEEU – Technical Electrical and Engineering Union) and its members over their perception of the allegedly poor standard of representation the union provided for them during pay talks with the ESB in January 2017.

Some 250 members resigned from Connect from March 2017 and joined Siptu, only to be expelled from that organisation in July 2018 following an objection by Connect.

They are now attempting to rejoin Siptu, but first are seeking confirmation from Connect that they have resigned as its members.

Connect had declined to provide that confirmation, a step which led to each worker mailing the union two weeks ago and requesting that their personal data be erased from its files, both on and offline, in line with the EU’s wide-ranging General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Erased

The reason for this request is that if Connect confirms it has erased those members’ data it will be taken as de facto confirmation that the members have exited the union.

Now, in response to that request, Connect says it will not be erasing those members’ names, dates of birth, membership numbers, details of arrears (if applicable), and joining and leaving dates.

5 Extract from letter sent from Connect to former members last Thursday, 13 September

Click her to view a larger image

Under GDPR’s ‘right to be forgotten’ articles, a body must outline a concrete justification for not acceding to a request to erase personal data.

In this case, Connect’s reasoning is twofold: 

  • It says it needs the data in order to comply with legal and contractual obligations to members such as payments from the benevolent fund, or mortality payments or retirement benefit
  • It says such data is needed to either take or defend legal claims or potential legal claims

How the payments in the former point apply to ex-members is unclear. TheJournal.ie spoke to some of those ex-members who said that such payments are not in any way applicable to them.

TheJournal.ie sought comment from Connect regarding this matter. A response had not been received at the time of publication.

A spokesperson for the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) told TheJournal.ie, with regard to the right to be forgotten:

Put simply, the right is not absolute.

Transparency

However, a senior professional source working in the field of data protection said that justification for the non-erasure of personal data under GDPR “must display transparency and accountability, and must deal in situations that will happen, not ones that may happen”.

It’s understood 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.

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.

8 Source: Rollingnews.ie

However, that move was 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.

Meanwhile, it’s now believed that those negotiations are in fact now in jeopardy due to the ongoing fraught nature of relations between ESB network technicians and Connect, with the company understood to be ‘concerned’ at the ongoing impasse.

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