Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) held a secret ballot of its members at Liebherr Container Cranes in Killarney yesterday, 14th January 2014.
SIPTU members voted to reject Labour Court proposals geared at resolving a long-term pay increase dispute with the Company dating back to 2009.
Liebherr Container Cranes Ltd., a member of the large family-owned German Company, Liebherr Group, was established in Killarney in 1958 and has been a significant direct and indirect employer in the area in recent years. The Company is one of the largest firms in Kerry and one of the largest of its kind in the country.
The German company has warned that its commitment to the plant in Killarney has been weakened in recent months as a result of the on-going pay issues and the industrial action which forced them to send work from Killarney to Germany.
Fears are now growing for jobs at the Company as Management admit to reviewing its operations in the region. Liebherr stated that a small number of employees have seriously compromised its future in Killarney.
Based on the details of Towards 2016 Review and Transitional Arrangement, an agreement drawn up by the Company, a 2.5% pay increase was due to be implemented for employees in January 2009.
The Company did not pay the expected increase and argued that payment would severely impact its competitiveness and limit its ability to preserve its headcount numbers in a time of economic hardship. The Company proposed to pay the increase due in three distinct phases beginning in 2012 in return for a number of concessions including cost-offsetting measures.
Union members and the Company were unable to resolve the dispute at local level and it became the subject of a Conciliation Conference under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission.
Agreement was not reached at this stage and, on the 28th January 2011, the pay dispute was referred to the Labour Court.
A Labour Court hearing was scheduled for, and took place on, the 2nd May 2012.
The Labour Court considered the submissions of all parties and a decision was made that further engagement was required if the claim was to be resolved before the Court. The Court recommended that the discussions/negotiations were to be facilitated by the Labour Relations Commission.
As a result of the unresolved pay dispute, industrial action was served by SIPTU in November 2013. Workers at the plant implemented a ban on overtime and undertook a one-day work stoppage late in November. All industrial action was suspended on 28th November when members of the union accepted an invitation to attend a hearing of the Labour Court on 4th December 2013.
In December 2013, the Labour Court recommended that the firm award the disputed 2.5% increase backdated almost two full years to its workers. The Court provided a list of recommendations to both sides. Liebherr said that, while the industrial action and the pay award had increased its cost base, they accepted the recommendation.
SIPTU workers at the plant, however, voted on the 14th January 2014 to reject the Labour Court proposals. The union was said to be dissatisfied with the proposal and wanted the 2.5% wage increase to be implemented on an unconditional basis.