Business

Caterpillar bypasses union to put new pay offer directly to employees

Management at Caterpillar has tabled what it insists is a “final” pay offer directly to striking employees in a bid to resolve a 14-month industrial impasse
Gary McDonald Business Editor

MANUFACTURING giant Caterpillar will effectively circumvent unions at its Larne and Springvale plants by putting a “final” pay offer directly to striking employees in a bid to resolve a 14-month industrial impasse.

Hundreds of workers at the company have been on strike since April in a dispute linked not just to pay, but to overtime arrangements which involve compulsory overtime to deal with periods of high customer demand.

Relations between the company and worker representatives Unite have turned increasingly sour, with the union targetting Caterpillar’s investors with protests in London at Blackrock, Vanguard, and State Street.

Unite also claimed that Caterpillar has been paying for strike-breakers it brought to Northern Ireland to stay in luxury accommodation with the Hastings hotel group.

But last night Caterpillar made what is being seen as a 'take it or leave it' offer directly to its workforce, and has also taken out newspaper advertisements today setting out its position and countering what it sees as misleading information.

It says its “good and fair” new offer includes a 9 per cent base salary increase effective from April 1, and a one-time lump sum equal to 2.6 per cent of wages earned from April last year to now.

One of the key union objections was a change in overtime arrangements which would involve compulsory overtime to deal with periods of high customer demand, or Customer-Driven Overtime (CDO).

Under the terms of CDO, employees would receive a minimum of 1¾ times their hourly pay rate for hours worked, and a maximum of 2 times their hourly pay rate for CDO hours worked if business goals were met.

Caterpillar said CDO would come with 30 days notice and no more than no more than 120 hours of overtime in a rolling 12-month period.

A spokesman for Caterpillar told the Irish News: “We negotiated with Unite, via the collective bargaining procedures, for more than a year to present a good and fair offer to our Northern Ireland production employees that recognises cost of living concerns while at the same time driving forward business competitiveness and agility within the workplace.

?

“After 14 months of direct meetings with the Union, four different mediation sessions through the Labour Relations Agency, and considerable movement from our first offer, we made it clear to Unite and our workforce that the offer on the table is final, live and can be re-balloted. Unite has not given our employees this option.”

The company adds: “The negotiations process is now exhausted and we have reached an impasse – all while Unite continues to extend the period of strike action. As a result, we’ve started the process of making direct offers to our workforce.

“We are pleased to offer these new terms and conditions, including significantly increased pay rates, to our employees and look forward to welcoming everyone back to work.

“We know this has been a difficult time for our employees, their families and the local communities. Our intention is to finalise an agreement which will benefit our employees, our customers and our business.

“Our final offer is a genuine attempt to do so and this is our main priority. We will continue to deal with the Union on future matters.”

Caterpillar, which is among the north's biggest employers with more than 1,000 staff, also insisted that it is “not walking away from our relationship with the union and remain committed to collective bargaining procedures for future terms and conditions”.

Unite regional officer George Brash described the move by Caterpillar as "a direct attack on the trade union" and labelled it "a clear attempt to circumvent the collective bargaining process."

He added: "We'll certainly be consulting our members on what the company has proposed as well as looking at all legal avenues to challenge them on it."

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Business