Agreement at tram company includes three-way ‘employee voice’ process

A new collective agreement at the successful Dublin-based tram system, Luas, features a unique three-way ‘employee voice’ process, new pay and bonus structures, new social benefits, shorter driving times and the replacement of a no-strike clause with strict dispute procedures, including an internal adjudication process. The new agreement aims to develop trust and improve line management and employee relations. It will be subject to an in-term review in September 2011.

Veolia Transport operates a successful tram system, known as Luas [Speed], in Ireland’s capital city of Dublin. Veolia Transport and the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU), which have a ‘closed shop’ arrangement at the company, concluded a new collective agreement in January 2010.

As part of the new settlement, the company management has agreed to drop an existing ‘no-strike agreement’ in return for strictly defined dispute procedures. The original no-strike clause was part of the opening agreement between the company and SIPTU in 2003. At that time, such a clause was seen as an essential requirement in any collective agreement, given that a disruption in service would mean the imposition of a financial penalty on the company. In addition, the trade union and management were both aware of the perception that public transport in Dublin has, historically, been beset by strikes – although these have been relatively short-lived in recent times.

Content of agreement

SIPTU states that the new agreement provides for:

  • the right to strike;
  • revised, increased and extended salary scales;
  • a continuous driving time maximum of three hours and 45 minutes;
  • a roster review for all grades;
  • paid maternity and paternity leave, among other leave improvements;
  • a bonus scheme yielding up to 6.5% of basic pay;
  • the introduction of an Occupational Injury Sickness Payment Scheme, separate to the ordinary sick leave scheme;
  • meaningful employee involvement;
  • fair and equitable disciplinary and grievance procedures;
  • regularised accessibility to shop stewards on site;
  • a lump sum payment of €150 per year of service – since capped at a maximum of €750;
  • an in-term review in September 2011.

Crucially, the new agreement sets out to develop trust and improve line management and employee relations. Uniquely, it aims to subject trade union representation to a measure of performance and accountability that may act as a template for what is termed the ‘employee voice’. This concept focuses more on opportunities for employees to be involved in decisions collectively, whether through trade unions or by other means.

Three-way relationship

The new agreement establishes an adjudication process for the handling of problems that might arise between the company, the trade union and the union’s members. It states that for the purposes of the application of these particular provisions, ‘it is accepted that there are in usage effectively three parties to these procedures. They are the company, the union and the members’.

The agreement stipulates that should any of the parties raise an issue concerning

‘a failure by another party to fully engage, protracted or repeated process delays, the withholding of necessary information, non-compliance with the overall terms set out herein, or for some other significant reason, they should formally ask that the appointed Adjudicator examine their process or behaviour complaint’.

Internal tribunal

The new Luas agreement states that an in-house tribunal, comprising a chair and two nominees from the company and trade union, will:

  • examine formally and offer specific advice, on an in-house basis, to help the parties address matters in which they have not immediately identified a possible solution for themselves;
  • oversee and offer advice in relation to training programmes required for company negotiators – namely, shop stewards, committee members and various levels of management.

Internal disputes procedure

Regarding potential industrial action, the new agreement states that the parties

‘will make every effort to resolve mutually all/any issues which arise … No action calculated to bring pressure to bear will be taken by any party to this agreement pending the full utilisation of these procedures’.

In the event of a disputed instruction by management, it is agreed that work will continue as directed, under protest as a last resort if necessary, pending the outcome of the agreed procedures.

There are seven stages to the new internal disputes procedure, as outlined below.

  • Stage 1: A meeting will be held within 14 days of a request by one party, at which parties will make every effort to resolve the issue.
  • Stage 2: If there is failure to agree, the matter shall be referred to the Labour Relations Commission (An Coimisiún um Chaidreamh Oibreachais, LRC).
  • Stage 3: If unresolved after conciliation, the matter shall be referred to the Veolia Transport In-house Dispute Resolution Tribunal.
  • Stage 4: The finding of the Tribunal will be balloted on, unless the parties agree that it is binding. If the finding is rejected, the issue will be referred for a Labour Court (An Chúirt Oibreachais) hearing.
  • Stage 5: The Labour Court recommendation will be balloted on.
  • Stage 6: If the court recommendation is rejected and if further action is contemplated, the trade union is required to conduct a separate ballot on the question and form of action. The union will be required to issue 21 days’ notice of intention to take industrial action.
  • Stage 7: Information concerning the receipt of such a notice (of action) will be communicated to the European Director of Operations of the company. The trade union will agree to meet with the director during the period of notice. It is accepted that a salary will not be paid during the period of industrial action, and any bonus will also be affected.

Roisin Farrelly, IRN Publishing

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