From Socialist Voice, July 2010

Court upholds the right of TEEU members to picket at Ballymun


In mid-June the Hight Court, in a very important judgement with implications for industrial relations disputes, upheld the right of members of the TEEU to picket at the Ballymun lift facility where they have been in dispute with the Pickerings Lifts Group since 4 February over redundancies. The court also awarded costs against Dublin City Council.
     This establishes an important legal precedent for workers involved in similar redundancy situations where an employer abandons a contract in the middle of an industrial dispute.
     Dublin City Council, with the full support of the Local Area Committee of the City Council (including Labour Party councillors), injuncted the union in April after allowing Pickerings to walk away from its Ballymun lifts maintenance contract rather than resolve a dispute with employees. The city council then awarded the maintenance contract for lifts in the high-rise flats to another company, Dimension Elevators.
     The reality is that no other lift contractor is going to operate in the Ballymun premises while the TEEU picket is in place, and Ms Justice Mary Laffoy acknowledged this in her judgement. She said that “the situation which prevails has given rise to a serious dilemma for both the Union and the plaintiff and, as outlined in my judgement on the interlocutory application, it has arisen from Pickerings’ failure to engage in the statutory industrial dispute resolution processes.”
     Ms Justice Laffoy ruled that once the pickets were moved to the nearby public pavement alongside the flats they would be lawful under section 11.1 of the Industrial Relations Act (1990), as the Ballymun premises were where the electricians’ employer, Pickerings, worked or carried on business when the pickets were first placed last February. These sections of the 1990 act allow members of a trade union to picket the approaches to the place of business where they were employed in pursuit of a legitimate industrial dispute.
     In her judgement Ms Justice Laffoy identified the core issue as the interpretation of section 11.1 of the act, relating to peaceful picketing.
     The issue was whether the Oireachtas intended picketers to have the protection of section 11.1 if their employer was working or carrying on business when the picketing began, even if the employer later ceased working there. The judge ruled that the test was whether the employer “works or carries on business” at the date the picketing began. If the test was satisfied, the picketing was lawful, provided other requirements of the 1990 act were met. In this case, she concluded, the test was satisfied.
     The High Court decision follows a ruling by the Labour Court in April under section 20 (1) of the Industrial Relations Act (1969) that Pickerings should carry out any redundancies in line with the clear and long-established procedures it has laid down for the industry. Pickerings failed to implement the “last in first out” principle when selecting employees for redundancy and refused to make extra-statutory redundancy payments to those being let go. After five months, Pickerings Lifts have still not agreed to abide by that Labour Court recommendation and continue to hide behind Dublin City Council.
     The city council has failed to explain its own role in this dispute. An attempt by Councillor Cieran Perry to put an emergency motion before the council at its June meeting, seeking to have it use its good offices to resolve the dispute and to stop pursuing the TEEU, failed to gain the support of either the Labour Party or Sinn Féin. So far all the council has achieved is delays in resolving a dispute that is inflicting hardship on its own tenants. It also sued the TEEU, instead of suing Pickerings, for breach of contract.
     Meanwhile TEEU members have continued to pursue a legitimate labour dispute in defence of their jobs and a reasonable redundancy package in line with the Labour Court recommendation.

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