On 11 May, the High Court granted an injunction preventing the picketing of UCC’s main campus by employees of the Tyndall National Institute. Under the Industrial Relations Act 1990, properly convened strikes are immune from suit provided certain conditions are satisfied. The granting of an injunction in this case shows a thorough examination of whether these conditions were satisfied and is opportune timing in light of the Government’s stated intention of enacting collective bargaining legislation prior to the Summer recess.
The Tyndall National Institute is a leading research centre in ICT and is part of UCC, although located on a separate campus. Tyndall employs approximately 460 researchers, engineers and support staff. SIPTU and the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) have been seeking an increase in pay for staff at Tyndall for some time and discussions at the Labour Relations Commission to date have been without success. Following this, SIPTU and IFUT organised a ballot of their members employed at Tyndall and a substantial majority voted in favour of strike action.
As required by law, SIPTU and IFUT notified UCC of the industrial action on 22 April, advising that pickets would be placed at the entrances to the employment on certain dates. The notification did not clarify whether the pickets would be confined to the Tyndall campus and UCC subsequently sought an undertaking that this was the case. The unions subsequently advised that the picket scheduled for 13 May, would be placed at a number of entrances to the main campus of UCC. Notably, this picket was scheduled during year-end examinations at UCC, a factor which appears to have had a substantial influence on the outcome of the case.
In a circular to its members regarding the industrial action, SIPTU asked all members, including those at UCC “to lend their support to the Tyndall staff”, suggesting that such support would be reciprocated if required in the future. This was a central point in the case and there was significant debate as to the meaning for the request of support. SIPTU subsequently clarified in a further communication to its members that all UCC staff should attend for work as normal and the industrial action was not intended to interfere with year-end examinations.
UCC sought two interlocutory injunctions preventing firstly, picketing at the main campus and secondly, interference with access to the main campus. UCC argued that the request of support from UCC employees included staff who did not participate in the ballot and therefore the proposed picket did not benefit from statutory immunity. In order to obtain an interloctory injunction, a plaintiff has to satisfy the Court that there is a serious issue to be tried, damages are not an adequate remedy and the balance of convenience lies in favour of granting the injunction. The High Court adopted the view that the initial circular seemed to call upon employees at UCC to engage in industrial action, in circumstances where these employees did not particpate in the ballot as required by legislation. On this basis, the Court granted the injunctions restraining the picket at the main campus. The Court appears to have disregarded the subsequent communications from SIPTU which sought to clarify the nature of this call for support. The Court, it seems, was heavily influenced by the potential interference with year-end examinations and indeed, the judgment questions the necessity to proceed with pickets at a time when students are probably under enough pressure.
The decision itself shows that the circumstances and wording of a secret ballot will be subject to close scrutiny before industrial action is immune from suit. It also gives a clear warning signal to unions to avoid any general calls for support from employees who were not included in the original ballot. According to a press release on 13 May, SIPTU has indicated that if the dispute is not resolved, there will be a ballot of all members, including those at UCC, for further industrial action.
Remember that this article is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Case law is fact specific and readers should understand that similar outcomes cannot be assumed. Specific advice should always be taken in given situations.
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