As crane drivers prepare to strike on a number of building sites from tomorrow, a serious row has broken out between SIPTU and Unite as to who should represent them.

SIPTU has traditionally represented crane drivers and recently secured the equivalent of a 25% pay rise by negotiating an extra two hours pay per day for "greasing time" to lubricate the cables on their cranes.

However, Unite now claims to represent around 170 of the crane drivers, and is seeking a substantial pay rise, which would see them earning €24 per hour from 1 January 2017, €27 per hour from 1 January 2018 and €30 per hour from 1 January 2019.

Yesterday, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions held a hearing into a SIPTU complaint against Unite for recruiting crane driver members, though Unite argues that the workers in question chose to transfer to them. 

The result of the hearing has not yet emerged.

The Construction Industry Federation has described the Unite claim as unsustainable, as it would trigger knock-on claims from thousands of other construction workers because of links between pay rates for various grades.

In a statement today, SIPTU called for solidarity among construction workers as they work together to secure improved pay and conditions through a new legally binding Sectoral Employment Order for the industry.

SIPTU Divisional Organiser Greg Ennis said solidarity both between grades and within them was crucial because of the volatile nature of employment in the sector.

He said SIPTU had been "falsely accused" by some of seeking to restrict or indeed cut pay within the construction sector".

However, he said the facts were "starkly different" and no effort to create "fake news" would succeed in contradicting them.

He noted that the current pay structure for all categories of building workers is based on a percentage of the craft rate, adding that collapsing that structure would dismantle, what he called, the hard-won inter-grade solidarity and result in long term pain for everybody.

Mr Ennis stated that all ICTU construction unions including SIPTU and Unite presented an agreed SEO submission to the Labour Court earlier this week to establish terms and conditions including  minimum rates of pay, pension, sick pay, travel time.

He noted that all unions - including Unite - had agreed to seek to preserve the integrated pay structure linking all categories of construction workers - and had proposed increases of 10.2% ranging from €15.17 to €18.96.

SIPTU Sector Organiser Martin Meere said the union had also proposed a complete review of the grading structure in light of changes in the industry since 2000, which would be a mechanism to address claims for improvements based on their intrinsic merits.

He said all ICTU unions except Unite had supported this approach, though he noted that Unite had not opposed it, but had sought time to reflect upon it.