ICTU to toughen inter-union transfer rules

At its conference in July 2001, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) is set to harden its rules on inter-union membership transfers following a number of high-profile disputes between member unions in the past year.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) is proposing a rule change which aims to make it harder for members of one affiliated trade union to move to another. A motion on the issue in the name of the ICTU executive committee will be discussed in what is sure to be a heated debate at the confederation's two-yearly conference in July 2001. The move is being interpreted as a response to a series of serious inter-union disputes across a range of companies - mainly in the public sector - such as the state airline, Aer Lingus, the state transport company, CIE, and the state-run electricity utility, ESB.

Under current ICTU rules, a trade union wishing to take into membership a category or group of workers represented by another union may only do so if 80% of that group or category indicate that they wish to move. This rule will stay but ICTU now wants to prevent any transfer until its internal disputes committee has investigated and made a finding on any transfer dispute under ICTU rules.

The following is the proposed wording which would, if passed, give effect to the change: "Unions should not take members of another union into membership, save with the consent of their existing union, pending the outcome of any dispute procedures referred to Congress under paragraphs 45/46 of the [ICTU] constitution."

An example of the sort of dispute which this change is aimed at preventing is the transfer of 1,400 Aer Lingus cabin crew from the Services Industrial Professional Technical Union (SIPTU) to the Irish Municipal, Public and Civil Trade Union (IMPACT) in 2000 (IE0011223N). It is unclear whether the proposed rule would have stopped this, although it certainly would have prevented IMPACT from accepting members before ICTU had made a ruling on the issue.

However, there are strong indications that this is not the only rule change in the union organisation/transfer area which ICTU is likely to consider in the medium term. The incoming general secretary, David Begg- he replaces the current incumbent, Peter Cassells, in September 2001 - has suggested an ombudsman system for such disputes.

Mr Begg believes that an ombudsman could take into account complaints made by members of trade unions about the quality of service they receive. He is of the view that decisions by workers to switch unions arise because they are unhappy about the level of service they provide, rather than being actively "poached" by another union. Mr Begg has also said that, while self-regulation remains vital for the trade union movement, such an ombudsman system would be seen by members to be transparent and fair.

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