Mutiny Against The 'Bounty'

Brickies take on Zoe

BATU bricklayers on the Zoe Developments site in Dublin's Wolfe Tone Street have been on strike since May (see last two issues of 'Fightback' for details of their successful battle against Cramptons). Zoe Developments are the building company with the appalling safety record that led to their managing director being fined and severely censured in court. Building companies normally negotiate with BATU to set rates, but Zoe refuses to do this.

They are paying £9.00 an hour compared to the going rate in Dublin of £13.50 an hour. Zoe issued a statement claiming they paid £700 per week to bricklayers on their sites although, not surprisingly, they have been unable to back this up with any details of these lucky workers. The bricklayers objected to the low rates of pay which Zoe were insisting on and when agreement could not be reached, they took the only option open to them.

The Labour Court at first failed to make any recommendation, then came back with a recommendation for an extra 50p an hour, which will be balloted on shortly. When the strike began, Zoe changed their name to Crossman Developments on the Wolfe Tone Street site (possibly in an effort to intimidate the picketers by claiming they had no right to be there) although they forgot to change the planning permission notice, which is clearly granted to Zoe.

They have changed the name on another site to Dillinger Developments (very appropriate). Carroll, the managing director of Zoe Developments, has bought up huge amounts of land in Dublin city, so he is obviously looking to secure his extraordinarily profitable business for some years to come. He is also the owner of an extensive haulage business - presumably unions aren't recognised there, either. What price the Nolans judgement now?

The Labour Court recently recommended that P.J. Hegertys, a major construction industry employer, should keep a list of BATU members which would be used for future employment, in the event of jobs finishing. Hegertys were trying to say that site by site employment is the norm in the industry, while BATU wanted temporary lay-off status for their members. The Court ruled for BATU, pointing out that workers could find it impossible to make financial arrangements without continuity of employment.

The strikers are still concerned about the issue of direct employment, which was the basis for their strike against Cramptons. BATU are opposing the new sub-contractors agreement which has been negotiated between the Construction Industry Federation and the building unions, including SIPTU. The agreement would legalise sub-contracting and all its attendant problems for workers, including the open door it leaves for operation within the black economy. ICTU appear to be negotiating this agreement without asking the building workers what they think about it and no arrangements have been made for a ballot. BATU have secured an interlocutory injunction against signing the agreement as arranged on 2 July, in an effort to force discussion of the implications.

It is difficult to understand SIPTU's role in the recent building workers disputes. SIPTU represents labourers on building sites and the sub-contractors agreement, if carried, would weaken the labourers' already poor position. Despite the long hours they work, many labourers are only earning £4.00 or £5.00 an hour and few of them have continuity of employment.

Instead of supporting BATU's firm stance against the black economy, SIPTU instructed members to pass the pickets and made much play of the unofficial nature of the last strike. Despite the fact that the Zoe Developments strike is official, SIPTU officials are still instructing members not to support it on the basis that it is not their battle!

Leaving aside the question of trade union solidarity (although we would never recommend doing this in the workplace), the resistance to rotten practices in the building industry should be supported by every union for the sake of their own members' best interests.

SIPTU's Construction Branch officials have welcomed the national agreement because it will make trade union recognition mandatory for sub-contractors who are approved under its terms. So what's the problem, you might ask? Simply that such recognition will mean in this case that in return for recognition in the industry, trade unions can formally turn a blind eye to the abuses by the sub- contracting system.

The 'Bounty', as it is known in the building industry, is a payment of 25p per week made by workers on building sites, and it is intended to fund the operation of the Pension Fund Monitoring Agency, which was set up by Kevin Duffy in ICTU in the early 1980s to make sure that workers were included in pension funds.

Despite the fact that so much money is collected for this monitoring, of the 100,000 people employed by the building industry, only 20,000 are currently in pension funds. Despite the imposition of this levy, a twenty per cent achievement rate for one hundred per cent monitoring is fairly pathetic. As a protest against this failure to deliver and against the proposed sub-contracting agreement, building workers are beginning a campaign for withdrawal from the monitoring scheme, on the basis that it has achieved virtually nothing and there is no consultation with members.

The slogan of the campaign will be: No Say, No Pay. This is a slogan that could well be extended to other areas of union activity - if members are not consulted about issues that are intrinsic to their well-being in the workplace, they have considerable financial clout at their fingertips (or their 'Deduction At Source' authorisation) to make their position clear.

To the SIPTU Fightback page