Representativeness of the European social partner organisations: Railways sector – Ireland

  • Observatory: EurWORK
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  • Published on: 07 December 2008



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The aim of this representativeness study is to identify the respective national and supranational actors (i.e. trade unions and employer organisations) in the field of industrial relations in the railway sector in Ireland. In order to determine their relative importance in the sector’s industrial relations, this study will, in particular, focus on their representational quality as well as on their role in collective bargaining. The study is divided into two parts: the first part deals with railway transport operations, based on research carried out in 2006; the second part focuses on rail infrastructure based on research completed in 2007.

Part 1 – Railway transport operations

1. Sectoral properties

Table 1: Main aspects of railway transport sector in Ireland, 1993 and 2004
  1993 2004**
Number of companies n.a. 1
Aggregate employment* n.a. 5,398 (A)
Male employment* n.a. 4,653
Female employment* n.a. 739
Aggregate employees n.a. 4,537 regular permanent workers, not including temporary employees (A)
Male employees n.a. n.a.
Female employees n.a. n.a.
Aggregate sectoral employment as a % of total employment in economy n.a. 0.27% (1.98 million in employment/5,398)
Aggregate sectoral employees as a % of total number of employees in economy n.a. 0.22% (1.98 million in employment/4,537)

Notes: * employees plus self-employed persons and agency workers; ** or most recent data; n.a. = not available; A = administrative data

2. The sector’s unions and employer associations

This section has to include the following unions and employer associations:

  • trade unions which are party to sector-related collective bargaining (In line with the above conceptual remarks, we understand sector-related collective bargaining as any kind of collective bargaining within the sector, i.e. single-employer bargaining as well as multi-employer bargaining. For the definition of single- and multi-employer bargaining, see 4.2);
  • trade unions which are a member of the sector-related European federation – in this case, the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF);
  • employer associations which are party to sector-related collective bargaining;
  • employer associations which are a member of the sector-related European employer federation – in this case, the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER).

2a Data on the unions

2a.1 Type of membership (voluntary vs. compulsory)

The different operative grades of workers employed by Ireland’s national rail network, Irish Rail (Iarnród Éireann) – including drivers – have a choice of membership of either the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) or the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU); they are only supposed to be members of one or the other. In the other grades, membership of the various unions representing the respective grades – such as Amicus (now Unite following a merger between Amicus and the Transport and General Workers’ Union), SIPTU and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) – is supposed to be compulsory for all workers concerned, with the exception of senior management, and almost all of these workers are members of the relevant union or unions for that grade. In practice, it is believed that several hundred workers, mostly in the clerical or managerial grades, are not members of any union.

2a.2 Formal demarcation of membership domain (e.g. blue-collar workers, private sector workers, railways sector employees, etc)

SIPTU and NBRU are the only trade unions with negotiating rights for the operative grades, although a small number of drivers (about 100) are members of the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers’ Union (ATGWU) and have representation rights on individual issues only; nonetheless, the latter are seeking representation rights on an ongoing basis. Clerical, supervisory and administrative workers are represented by both TSSA and SIPTU.

In the maintenance area, a wide variety of unions are active. Coachbuilders are represented by ATGWU. Amicus represents professional engineers, as well as technicians such as fitters and plumbers. The Technical, Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) represents electricians, along with fitters and a small number of engineering operatives. Britain’s General Union (GMB) represents about 10 boilermakers, while the National Union of Sheet Metal Workers of Ireland (NUSMWI) represents around 10 sheet metal workers. The Union of Construction Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) represents about 10 carpenters, while the Building and Allied Trades’ Union (BATU) represents around five bricklayers and stonemasons. The AGEMO trade group of SIPTU – an autonomous division within the union – represents about 40 engineering operatives.

2a.3 Number of members

There are about 700 NBRU members in Irish Rail, along with 622 TSSA members and 2,564 SIPTU members (administrative data source). A trade union source estimates that the other unions have the following number of members in Irish Rail:

Unite – 120 members;

TEEU – 200 members,

GMB – 10 members;

NUSMWI – 10 members;

UCATT – 10 members;

BATU – 5 members;

AGEMO division of SIPTU – 40 members.

2a.4 Female union members as a percentage of total union membership

There was no gender breakdown available from the unions.

2a.5 Density with regard to the union domain (see 2a.2)

85% (estimate)

2a.6 Density of the union with regard to the sector

85% (estimate)

2a.7 Does the union conclude collective agreements?

All of the unions conclude collective agreements, apart from the ATGWU in the driving grade, which has individual representation rights only (although there is a new procedure proposed which would give them limited collective representation rights through the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the national union umbrella body).

2a.8 For each association, list their affiliation to higher-level national, European and international interest associations (including cross-sectoral associations)

All of the unions are members of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) and, through that, of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), with the exception of NRBU. The unions in Irish Rail are: SIPTU, NBRU, TSSA, Amicus, TEEU, ATGWU, GMB, NUSMWI, UCATT and BATU.

2b Data on the employer associations

There are no employer associations specifically devoted to the railway sector in Ireland. Nevertheless, the country’s only rail operator, Irish Rail, is a member of the national employer body the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation (IBEC), although the latter does not usually represent it directly at third party hearings. Irish Rail, through its state-owned parent company, Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ), is also a member of the CER. Moreover, Irish Rail concludes collective agreements with the various trade unions active in the company.

Employer density in terms of companies is defined as the ratio of member companies to the potential member companies, as demarcated by the employer associations’ domain and by the sector.

Employer density in terms of employees is defined as the ratio of the number of employees working in the member companies to the number of employees working in the potential member companies, as demarcated by the employer associations’ domain and by the sector.

If the domain of an employer association embraces only part of the sector, then the data on density should refer to this part.

3. Inter-associational relationships

3.1. Unions covered whose domains overlap

All of the trade unions at Irish Rail have sectional overlap, in the sense that they only partly represent the railway sector and comprise many members outside of this sector. The union SIPTU has members in almost every area of Irish Rail, apart from the skilled craft worker grades. Although NBRU and TSSA only represent workers in the public transport sector, both have many members from the bus and rail sectors. The unions Amicus, TEEU, ATGWU, GMB, NUSMWI, UCATT and BATU all have only a small percentage of their overall membership in the rail sector.

3.2. Do rivalries and competition exist among the unions, concerning the right to conclude collective agreements and to be consulted in public policy formulation and implementation?

Although SIPTU and NBRU both have representation rights for the operative grades, both compete on a regular basis for members. Normally, membership transfers between Irish trade unions is regulated by a special procedure overseen by ICTU; however, since NBRU is not a member of ICTU, this procedure does not apply. In the past, the competition for members has been bitter and commentators have suggested that the unions are apprehensive about making concessions to the employer, for fear of being perceived as too lenient and losing members. However, this traditional inter-union rivalry has abated somewhat in recent years, although it has not entirely disappeared.

3.3. If yes, are certain unions excluded from these rights?

The only union excluded from representation rights is ATGWU – and only in this case in relation to train drivers; the union is recognised in respect of a number of craft workers in the coach maintenance department. In the mid 1990s, about 100 or more mainline train drivers left NBRU and SIPTU to set up a small union of their own – called the Irish Locomotive Drivers’ Association. This led to a bitter dispute during the summer of 2000 in the newly formed association’s battle for recognition, which it lost. In 2001, the association joined ATGWU as a branch, in the hope of gaining recognition under that union’s name. However, Irish Rail still refuses to recognise ATGWU for collective bargaining purposes, as it wishes to avoid union multiplication: the company argues that drivers already have a choice of two unions. Recently, a proposal emerged whereby collective representation would be afforded to ATGWU drivers with respect to certain issues, such as rosters, through an intermediary in ICTU. This proposal was approved by the drivers, but is still under consideration by SIPTU, which had originally represented over half of the ATGWU drivers.

3.4. Same question for employer associations as 3.1

There are no employer associations specifically devoted to the railway sector in Ireland.

3.5. Same question for employer associations as 3.2

Not relevant in this case

3.6. Same question for employer associations as 3.3

Not relevant in this case

4. The system of collective bargaining

Collective agreements are defined in line with national labour law, regardless of whether they are negotiated under a peace obligation.

4.1. Sector’s rate of collective bargaining coverage

Almost 100%

4.2. Relative importance of multi-employer agreements and of single-employer agreements as a percentage of the total number of employees covered

Since there is only one employer, all agreements only involve that particular employer.

4.2.1. Is there a practice of extending multi-employer agreements to employers who are not affiliated to the signatory employer associations?

No multi-employer agreements exist.

5. Formulation and implementation of sector-specific public policies*

5.1. Are the sector’s employer associations and unions usually consulted by the authorities in sector-specific matters? If yes, which associations?

While there are no formal consultation mechanisms, continuous and extensive informal consultation does take place between the government and Irish Rail, as well as the trade unions, on a wide range of issues.

There are two main formal forums for consultation between management and the unions, both of which meet on a quarterly basis: the Safety Consultative Group on safety issues and the Top Participation Group on business and policy issues.

Also, under the Worker Participation (State Enterprises) Act 1977, the workforce is entitled to elect four worker directors onto the company’s management board of 12 representatives; this is a common practice in Irish state enterprises.

5.2. Do tripartite bodies dealing with sector-specific issues exist?

No.

6. Statutory regulations of representativeness

6.1. In the case of the unions, do statutory regulations exist which establish criteria of representativeness, which a union must meet to be entitled to conclude collective agreements? If yes, please briefly illustrate these rules and list the organisations which meet them.

Yes, the unions must satisfy certain regulations to receive a negotiating licence. For instance, they must have 1,000 members and must apply for a negotiating licence from the state regulator for such bodies – that is, the Office of the Registrar of Friendly Societies. Irish Rail recognises unions, as it is obliged to do so under legislation pertaining to the railways sector.

6.2. In the case of the unions, do statutory regulations exist which establish criteria of representativeness, which a union must meet to be entitled to be consulted in matters of public policy and to participate in tripartite bodies? If yes, please briefly illustrate these rules and list the organisations which meet them.

While the unions must be consulted by the Railway Safety Commission (RSC), there are no criteria for representativeness which are required to be met.

6.3. Are elections for a certain representational body (e.g. works councils) established as criteria for union representativeness? If yes, please report the most recent electoral outcome for the sector.

The only elections for worker representational bodies are those pertaining to the four worker-reserved seats on the Irish Rail board of directors. The results of these elections are not a factor in deciding which unions have representation rights.

6.4. Same question for employer associations as 6.1

There are no employer associations specific to the sector.

6.5. Same question for employer associations as 6.2

Not relevant in this case

6.6. Are elections for a certain representational body established as criteria for the representativeness of employer associations?

Not relevant in this case

7. Commentary

A high degree of trade union representation exists in Ireland’s railway sector, with almost every area of the company Irish Rail, including much of middle management, being represented by one of the aforementioned unions. Industrial relations at Irish Rail have historically been adversarial, with a large number of issues being referred to third parties. However, the situation has improved in recent years, with the advent of pay restructuring on a similar basis to annualised hours in many operative grades, along with a marked reduction in the number of issues being referred to third parties.

A key problem has been the inter-union rivalry which exists between SIPTU and NBRU in the operative grades, which arises from the fact that NBRU is not affiliated to ICTU, thus allowing for unimpeded competition for members. However, this problem has not been as acute in recent years.

Another ongoing problem concerns drivers in the sector: about 100 of the 450 or so drivers in the company are still members of ATGWU, which is not recognised by the company for collective bargaining purposes. Their lack of representation on regular issues, such as rostering, has led to unofficial action on a number of occasions. Moreover, a proposal brokered by ICTU to allow the drivers some arms-length collective representation on a limited number of issues has still to be approved by all concerned.

Part 2 – Railway infrastructure

Ireland’s railway infrastructure sector is also run by the country’s state-owned company Irish Rail, where full trade union recognition operates. All workers are theoretically supposed to be members of a trade union – and most are; nevertheless, a minority of the workers are not members of a union, which is more likely due to inertia on their part rather than any hostility towards the trade unions. Most white-collar workers and those in the craft grades are members of trade unions specific to that grade, while operatives are mainly members of SIPTU, with some also being affiliated to NBRU.

1. Sectoral properties

Table 2: Main aspects of railway infrastructure in Ireland, 1994 and 2005
  1994 2005**
Number of companies 1 1
Aggregate employment* n.a. 2,244
Male employment* n.a. 2,114
Female employment*   130
Aggregate employees n.a. 2,029
Male employees n.a. n.a.
Female employees n.a. n.a.
Aggregate sectoral employment as a % of total employment in economy n.a. 0.107% (based on May 2007 employment figure of 2,095,000
Aggregate sectoral employees as a % of total number of employees in economy n.a. 0.097% (based on May 2007 employment figure of 2,095,000

Notes: * employees plus self-employed persons and agency workers; ** or most recent data; n.a. = not available

2. The sector’s unions and employer associations

This section includes the following unions and employer associations:

  • unions which are party to sector-related collective bargaining;
  • unions which are a member of the sector-related European federation – that is, the ETF;
  • employer associations which are party to sector-related collective bargaining;
  • employer associations which are a member of the sector-related European employer federations – that is, CER and the European Rail Infrastructure Managers (EIM).

2a Data on the unions

2a.1 Type of membership (voluntary vs. compulsory)

In Irish Rail, operative grades – such as signalling and track maintenance workers – are theoretically supposed to be members of either SIPTU or NBRU. In the other grades, membership is supposed to be compulsory for all workers except senior management, and almost all of these workers are members of the relevant union or unions for that grade. In practice, it is believed that several hundred workers, mostly those in the clerical or managerial grades, are not members of any union.

2a.2 Formal demarcation of membership domain

SIPTU and NBRU are the only unions with negotiating rights for the operative grades, which include signallers and permanent ‘way workers’. Clerical, supervisory and administrative workers are represented by both TSSA and SIPTU.

In the maintenance area, a wide variety of unions are active. For example, coachbuilders are represented by ATGWU. Amicus represents professional engineers, as well as technicians such as fitters and plumbers. TEEU represents electricians in addition to fitters and a small number of engineering operatives. GMB represents about 10 boilermakers, while NUSMWI represents approximately 10 sheet metal workers. UCATT represents around 10 carpenters, while BATU represents about five bricklayers and stonemasons. The AGEMO division of SIPTU – an automonous division within the union – represents about 40 engineering operatives.

2a.3 Number of union members (i.e. the total number of members of the union as a whole)

The following membership figures refer to members in Ireland only (administrative data source):

SIPTU – 200,000 members;

NBRU – 3,700 members;

TSSA – 1,877 members;

Unite – 94,712 members;

TEEU – 37,025 members;

GMB – 10,135 members;

NUSMWI – 800 members;

UCATT – 15,160 members;

BATU – 10,020 members.

2a.4 Number of union members in the sector

Not available

2a.5 Female union members as a percentage of total union membership

No gender breakdown was available from the unions.

2a.6 Density with regard to the union domain (see 2a.2)

85%

2a.7 Density of the union with regard to the sector

85%

2a.8 Does the union conclude collective agreements?

All of the unions conclude collective agreements.

2a.9 For each association, list their affiliation to higher-level national, European and international interest associations (including cross-sectoral associations)

Union density is defined as the ratio of union members to potential union members, as demarcated by the union’s domain and by the sector.

If the domain of a union embraces only part of the sector, then the data on density should refer to this part.

2b Data on the employer associations

There are no employer associations dedicated specifically to Ireland’s railway sector. The only rail infrastructure operator, Irish Rail, is a member of the Irish national employer body IBEC, although the latter does not usually represent it directly at third party hearings. Irish Rail, through its state-owned parent company, CIÉ, is also a member of the European association CER, as well as the International Union of Railways (UIC). The company also concludes collective agreements with the various trade unions involved.

Employer density in terms of companies is defined as the ratio of member companies to the potential member companies, as demarcated by the employer associations’ domain and by the sector.

Employer density in terms of employees is defined as the ratio of the number of employees working in the member companies to the number of employees working in the potential member companies, as demarcated by the employer associations’ domain and by the sector.

If the domain of an employer association embraces only part of the sector, then the data on density should refer to this part.

3. Inter-associational relationships

3.1. Unions whose domains overlap

All of the trade unions active in Irish Rail’s infrastructure divisions have sectional overlap, in the sense that only part of their membership represents those working in the railway infrastructure sector and they have many members outside of this sector. SIPTU has members in almost every area of Irish Rail, apart from the skilled craft worker grades. Although NBRU and TSSA only represent workers in the public transport sector, both have many members in the bus as well as rail sector. Only a small percentage of the membership of Amicus, TEEU, ATGWU, GMB, NUSMWI, UCATT and BATU is in the rail infrastructure sector.

3.2. Do rivalries and competition exist among the unions, concerning the right to conclude collective agreements and to be consulted in public policy formulation and implementation?

While SIPTU and NBRU both have representation rights for the operative grades, both compete on a regular basis for members. Normally, membership transfers between Irish unions are regulated by a special procedure overseen by ICTU; however, since NBRU is not a member of ICTU, this procedure does not apply. In the past, the competition for members has been bitter and commentators have suggested that the unions are apprehensive to make concessions to the employers, for fear of appearing too lenient and losing members. However, this traditional inter-union rivalry has abated somewhat in recent years, although it has not entirely disappeared.

These days, inter-union competition also tends to manifest itself in the recruitment of new employees into one or other of the two unions, rather than existing employees switching unions. However, this was never as big an issue in the rail infrastructure divisions of Irish Rail as it has been in the onboard train operations, as NRBU’s presence is much smaller in many of these areas compared with that of SIPTU.

3.3. If yes, are certain unions excluded from these rights?

No

3.4. Same question for employer associations as 3.1

There are no employer associations dedicated specifically to Ireland’s railway sector.

3.5. Same question for employer associations as 3.2

Not relevant

3.6. Same question for employer associations as 3.3

Not relevant

4. The system of collective bargaining

Collective agreements are defined in line with national labour law regardless of whether they are negotiated under a peace obligation.

4.1. Sector’s rate of collective bargaining coverage

Almost 100%

4.2. Relative importance of multi-employer agreements and of single-employer agreements as a percentage of the total number of employees covered

Since there is only one employer – Irish Rail – all agreements involve that employer.

4.2.1. Is there a practice of extending multi-employer agreements to employers who are not affiliated to the signatory employer associations?

No multi-employer agreements exist.

5. Formulation and implementation of sector-specific public policies

5.1. Are the sector’s employer associations and unions usually consulted by the authorities in sector-specific matters? If yes, which associations?

There are no formal consultation mechanisms. Nevertheless, continual and extensive informal consultation does take place between the government and Irish Rail, along with the trade unions, on a wide range of issues.

There are two main formal forums for consultation between management and unions, both of which meet on a quarterly basis: they are the Safety Consultative Group on safety issues and the Top Participation Group on business and policy issues.

In addition, under the Worker Participation (State Enterprises) Act 1977, workers are entitled to elect four worker directors onto the company’s management board, which comprises 12 representatives; this is a common feature in Irish state enterprises.

5.2. Do tripartite bodies dealing with sector-specific issues exist?

No

6. Statutory regulations of representativeness

6.1. In the case of the unions, do statutory regulations exist which establish criteria of representativeness, which a union must meet to be entitled to conclude collective agreements?

Irish Rail recognises trade unions – as it is obliged to do so under the country’s railways legislation.

6.2. In the case of the unions, do statutory regulations exist which establish criteria of representativeness which a union must meet, so as to be entitled to be consulted in matters of public policy and to participate in tripartite bodies?

While unions must be consulted by the Railway Safety Authority, there are no criteria for representativeness which need to be met.

6.3. Are elections for a certain representational body (e.g. works councils) established as criteria for union representativeness?

The only elections for worker representational bodies are those pertaining to the four worker-reserved seats on the Irish Rail board of directors. The results of these elections are not a factor in deciding which unions have representation rights.

6.4. Same question for employer associations as 6.1

There are no specific national employer associations for the sector.

6.5. Same question for employer associations as 6.2

Not relevant

6.6. Are elections for a certain representational body established as criteria for the representativeness of employer associations?

Not relevant

7. Commentary

A high degree of trade union representation exists in Ireland’s railway infrastructure sector, with almost every area of the company Irish Rail, including much of middle management, being represented by one of the aforementioned unions. Industrial relations at the company have historically been adversarial, with a large number of issues being referred to third parties. However, the situation has improved in recent years, with the advent of pay restructuring on a similar basis to annualised hours in many operative grades, along with a marked reduction in the number of issues being referred to third parties.

A key problem has been the inter-union rivalry which exists between SIPTU and NBRU in the operative grades in certain parts of the infrastructure sector. This is related to the fact that NBRU is not affiliated to ICTU, thus allowing for unimpeded competition for members. However, this problem has not been as acute in recent years.

Colman Higgins, IRN Publishing

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