6 Jul 2009

Thousands of electricians strike in Ireland

10:11 pm on 6 July 2009

Thousands of electricians went on strike in Ireland on Monday in a major test of government and employer efforts to cut pay during a record recession.

From factory floors to corporate suites, wages and salaries have been falling as businesses adjust to plummeting demand and try to claw back competitiveness lost during the boom years of the "Celtic Tiger" economy.

The electricians' dispute centres around wage increases of about 11% that they say are owed to them for a number of years.

Employers have said they cannot afford to give them more money and instead are looking for a wage cut of 10%.

"This will have a major impact on the whole country and not just the construction industry but on the whole economy," Eddie Keenan, director of industrial relations at the Construction Industry Federation, said.

About 10,500 electrical contractors are taking part in the strike, the first major industrial action since Ireland skidded into recession last year, and pickets have been set up at construction sites at Dublin Airport, the main soccer stadium and companies such as Intel.

The country's electricity supply will not be affected.

SIPTU, one of Ireland's largest unions with 200,000 members, said it supported the electricians and signalled it would be prepared to join them.

Employers have been able to push through wages cuts of about 10% or more in Ireland as dole queues balloon and people with jobs count themselves lucky.

Five-year austerity diet

The government, meanwhile, has had to put the country on a five-year austerity diet after a debt-fuelled property boom turned Ireland from economic star to one of the industrialised world's worst performers.

Prime Minister Brian Cowen has vowed to get the budget deficit under an European Unit limit of 3% of gross domestic product by 2013 from a targeted 10.75% this year.

Mr Cowen is under pressure from the International Monetary Fund and others to cut public sector pay in the budget in December.