Industrial unrest in Ireland: implications for employers

Industrial action remains a common feature of Irish employment law as is evident from the current high profile strike by workers employed by Transdev Ireland (“Transdev”), a private company with responsibility for operating the Dublin light rail service known as the LUAS.

Transdev workers began a “work to rule” in February 2016 after their efforts to secure a pay increase was rejected. Since then, workers have held several full day strikes, with more planned for the weeks and months ahead. To date, the strikes have affected approximately 100,000 commuters on each full day of strike action.

In April, Transdev imposed a 10% pay cut on workers engaged in “work to rule” action. It also placed all workers engaged in strike action on protective notice which means that employees have been warned that positions may be made redundant unless a resolution can be found.

The law

Currently the law in Ireland is that a company cannot be compelled to formally recognise a trade union. There is also no right to take industrial action. However, workers and trade unions benefit from a number of protections under the Industrial Relations Acts (the “IR Act”) including immunity from certain forms of legal action.

In order for workers and their trade unions to engage in lawful industrial action and avail of the immunities, a secret ballot of members must be held and the outcome of that ballot must favour strike or other industrial action. The strike organisers must give one weeks’ notice of the strike to the employer and there must also be a fair case that the action is taken in contemplation of a trade dispute. Once these conditions have been satisfied, it is difficult for an employer to restrain industrial action. However, there is no obligation on an employer to pay workers who are on strike.

Where a strike or industrial action goes beyond peaceful picketing, in those circumstances, an employer may seek an ex parte injunction from the court restraining industrial action.

Strike action

If an employer is subject to a strike, and it looks like potentially going beyond what is peaceful, an employer should consider the following;

  • Have a visible presence with a camera (this is often sufficient to ensure the mark is not stepped over).
  • Write to the unions advising that if a particular line is crossed the employer will apply for an injunction.
  • Try to get names of individual picketers (the injunction generally needs to be against named individuals).
  • Prepare in advance drafts of affidavits/statements setting out the impact on the employer of the (unlawful) picket, including details of the production and operational cost to the company, time to resume production, etc.