INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 1990
SECTION 26(1), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1990
JAMES MCMAHON LIMITED
(REPRESENTED BY THE IRISH BUSINESS AND EMPLOYERS' CONFEDERATION)
- AND -
BUILDING AND ALLIED TRADES' UNION
Chairman: Mr Duffy
Employer Member: Mr Keogh
Worker Member: Mr O'Neill
1. (1) Introduction of non time-served machinists as woodcutters (2) Agreement on new grade.
2. James McMahon Limited operates as a builders providers at Corcanee, Limerick. Within the same milling end of the Company's operation which processes timber for sale to the construction industry, there are two categories of employees, general operators and woodcutting machinists.
Recently the Company invested in two new computer controlled machines which are used for moulding and plaining timber.
The dispute before the Court concerns the Union's claim that the Company has introduced two non time-served employees on the machines, to do the duties of time-served woodcutting machinists, in breach of the Company/Union agreement.
The Company's position is that it wishes to establish a new grade of wood machinist which would come between the current general operative and woodcutting machinist grades. It sought to negotiate a rate of pay for this new grade. The Union refuses to negotiate.
The matter was referred to the Labour Relations Commission. A conciliation conference took place on the 6th of April, 1998. As agreement could not be reached, the dispute was referred to the Labour Court on the 21st of April, 1998 under Section 26(1) of the Industrial Relations Act, 1990. A Labour Court hearing took place in Limerick on the 13th of May, 1998.
3. 1. The Union rejected the Company's proposal to negotiate a rate of pay for the new grade on the basis that it was in breach of the Company/Union agreement.
2. The Company has other outlets in Dublin and Fermoy where it employs woodcutting machinists. If the Union accepted the Company's proposal it would lead to a similar situation in these areas with the consequent loss of fully trained woodcutting machinists.
3. The Union's proposal that the workers be given the opportunity to serve an apprenticeship to the trade was unacceptable to the Company.
4. The Company's proposal conflicts with the recent FAS report carried out in relation to all wood trades which recommended:-
(1) FAS should offer a training programme in saw doctoring skills.
(2) FAS should offer training in computer skills for sawyers, to assist the sector to keep abreast of changing technology.
That report also refers to the increasing demand for higher standards of timber being sought by customers and the growing demands on operatives in relation to health and safety matters.
4. 1. The Company invested a substantial amount of money in the purchase of the two new machines "Weinig" in early 1997. The Company simply requires operational flexibility and co-operation for the introduction of a specific machine operator grade to work these machines. An agreed structure already exists within the Company for general operators and wood machinists. Given the extensive investment made by this Company for these machines,in what is a very marginal business, it is reasonable to seek to negotiate an appropriate rate of pay for a machine operator in the circumstances.
2. The Company has given assurances to the Union that it will continue to require wood machinists and has further advised the Union at local level that it will advertise for FAS registered wood machinist apprenticeships in the near future. There is no need for a machine operator to serve a four year FAS apprenticeship to work the computerised "Weinig" Machines. These operators will receive proper training and instruction to work these machines.
3. The Union has refused to negotiate with the Company over the introduction of an appropriate rate of pay for a machine operator. There is no justification in paying a machine operator a wood machinist's rate of pay in this case.
4. Whilst the Company was prepared to negotiate an affordable rate of pay for a machine operator , the Union was not prepared to discuss the Company's proposal to introduce a rate of pay for a machine operator from which a number of its members at the operator grade would stand to financially gain.
5. The Union has repeatedly argued that the introduction of an agreed rate would have negative repercussions across the construction industry with particular reference to saw mills. The Company rejects this allegation as this Company is the only independent builders provider merchant within the country with these type of timber moulding machines.
6. The introduction of a machine operator grade represents a progressive opportunity for general operators who for one reason or another are not successful or interested in acquiring a wood machinist apprenticeship and can avail of an opportunity to progress through the Company's proposed wage structure to that of a machine operator's position. Incidentally, a number of general operators have approached the Company to express interest in the positions of machine operators and FAS apprenticeships for wood machinists.
7. The Company requests the Court to endorse its requirements to introduce a machine operator grade within its existing wage structure. This will assist it address its customer requirements. It has done all within its power to negotiate an affordable rate for the grade of machine operator. The failure of the Company to attain agreement to date has restricted further investment opportunities within the plant. The Union has chosen not to negotiate or even discuss the situation in relation to the Company's stated requirements following a major capital investment programme in machinery.
It appears that elements of this dispute may relate to demarcation of work, which would not normally be dealt with by the Court. However, noting the position of both parties, the Court is satisfied that it should make a recommendation so as to resolve the current impasse.
The Court recommends that the parties agree that wood machining is a craft job and is appropriate to a craft worker. Any new position being created to assist the wood machinist should be in a non-craft category. The rate of pay for this new position should be negotiated between the Company and the appropriate Trade Union as there have been no meaningful discussions to date on this matter.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
29th June, 1998______________________
Enquiries concerning this Recommendation should be addressed to Fran Brennan, Court Secretary.