by Rob Lynch
(Original article http://www.bajrfed.co.uk/bajrpress/unionisation-and-the-iac-dispute/)
Not in Dispute
To my mind, there is no dispute between Irish Archaeological Consultancy (IAC) and its employees, evidenced by these following points:
In November 2018 Unite held a meeting with IAC employees seeking support for another day of industrial action however the majority of IAC staff voted that they were not in favour of further industrial action. Unite informed IAC that our staff sought assurances from the company that our grading system and rates of pay would be in place until 2020, like the arrangement between Unite and Rubicon and if these assurances were provided then there would be no more industrial action on IAC sites. We informed Unite that were would be happy to provide these assurances directly to our staff. Unite held another vote among IAC staff to determine if the staff were satisfied to receive these assurances directly from the company or whether it should be negotiated through the union. In a letter to IAC staff Unite stated the following:
‘We asked Mr Lynch for wage security and he’s agreed to it, but the decision to accept or reject the proposal we put to him is yours and please be aware that it comes without acknowledgement, recognition or negotiation by IAC with Unite Archaeological Branch but our members asked for security in locking in base rates and we are delivering this. The decision is yours.’ (my underline)
The majority of staff made their decision and voted in favour of accepting the assurances regarding pay and the grading system directly from the company.
It is clear from the above evidence that IAC are not in dispute with our staff. The feedback we have received from our staff is that, like most employees in any sector, their primary concern is stability of employment, getting a fair wage and that there is a career pathway in place for them – which we are providing.
I would now like to address some of the other points raised in the original article.
We have well-established lines of communication between our staff both onsite and within the office environment as well as a staff handbook that is available for all to read. This system of communication is effective and is clearly explained to staff on all of our projects and allows staff to understand the process to raise issues that they may have and how this gives the company an opportunity to remedy them. Subjects such as expenses, mileage etc, which varies from project to project, are explained to staff at the outset.
In addition, we have recently established an Employee Forum, the purpose of which is to formally facilitate a two-way communication process between staff and management on collective matters that affect all employees. Like the Grading System, our Employee Forum is a first in Irish Archaeology and I believe it further demonstrates the progressive nature of our company and our commitment to create a sustainable work environment where both employees and the company can prosper and grow.
Stability and growth
The assertion that the company dictate terms to staff and make “take-it-or-leave-it” offers is incorrect. All our site-based staff are accessed in accordance with our grading system. This is carried out by the onsite Project Manager and not by the company management at the office. When staff are reviewed, we take holistic views on how they are progressing, their professional ambitions and remuneration with a direct and open discussion. IAC are now over 20 years in business with a low staff turnover and many long-serving staff, this level of stability and growth in the business has not been achieved by dictating terms and having a take-it-or-leave-it approach. Our core staff is more than double the number quoted in the article, plus contract staff.
Reference is made to an excavation contract being completed before Christmas and staff being laid off. What was not mentioned is that all contract staff on that project were then offered alternative employment at IAC sites in Dublin.
The author of the original article makes references to laying off long-term staff, IAC like every other company across all sectors laid off staff at the peak of the recession. The company did however hire independent consultants/sub-contractors, some of whom were former employees to carry out works on a project by project basis at mutually agreed rates. These individuals also provided their services to other archaeological companies at the same time.
The statement that IAC billing rates stayed the same or in fact increased during the recession is not true and makes no sense in a highly competitive market.
It is suggested that IAC initiated a race to the bottom in Irish archaeology, while we recognise it did happen elsewhere, IAC took the lead in creating a dialogue between archaeological companies with the goal of increasing staff pay and improving conditions. This is evidenced increased staff pay over the last 4 years, currently our site assistants have three grades – Grade 3 (€14.40ph), Grade 2 (€15.33ph) and Grade 1 (€16.00ph), all of which are above the minima rate recently negotiated between Rubicon and Unite, which currently stands at €14.27ph.
I have had several discussions, including a face-to-face meeting, with Jean O’Dowd of Unite and in my opinion these discussions have been open and cordial. During these meetings it was agreed by both of us that there has been significant improvement in the pay and conditions for archaeologists working in Ireland in recent years. In my view these are achievements that should be recognised and built upon by all stakeholders in the profession and used as a platform to address some of the systemic issues that affect us all.
I pointed out to Jean that our approach – one of working with and listening to our colleagues directly – has brought stability, increases in pay and opportunities for the company and our staff to grow professionally through our grading system. I urged Unite to listen to what their IAC members communicated to them late last year on this matter. IAC are a progressive company and are listening to their staff to improve the way we operate, and implementing changes that give opportunities to all who work with us, in essence, we are a good company for employment and conditions. We hope to move forward into a future that sees archaeology as a sustainable career.