Trade unions SIPTU and Unite have settled their long-running dispute over who has the right to represent crane operators on construction sites.

Traditionally SIPTU represented the grade, but for the last year Unite has claimed to represent a significant proportion, and has staged a number of stoppages on construction sites in pursuit of better pay and conditions.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions upheld a complaint by SIPTU against Unite in relation to alleged poaching of crane operators, but the two unions have now reached an agreement to resolve outstanding issues within the construction sector.

The proposed agreement reached ten days ago bears the names of SIPTU General Secretary Joe O'Flynn and Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey - though it is unclear whether the deal has yet been signed.

An agreed individual - expected to be Liam Berney of the ICTU - is to be appointed to validate membership of both unions among the crane operator grade, including the numbers in each union, and the numbers who are members of both unions.

Both SIPTU and Unite agree to the principle of "what we have, we hold" for those who only belong to one union.

For those with dual membership, an agreed letter from both unions will be sent simultaneously to each member, requiring them to select the union of their choice within a specified period.

Both unions will then seek a legally binding Registered Employment Agreement governing terms and conditions for crane operators by 31 August next.

That REA will cover six issues, including scope, discipline and grievance procedure, variation of the agreement, greasing allowances, the normal working week, and overtime applications.

As regards general operatives in the construction sector, the agreement acknowledged that there does not appear to be any easy solution.

However, both unions have proposed former Labour Court chairman Kevin Duffy to investigate all issues involved and to report back to the parties with recommendations.