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Will there be a summer of strikes? There's trouble brewing on several fronts

2016 has not been a good year for industrial relations.

THE THREAT OF strikes is looming large over a number of sectors in Ireland at the moment.

Industrial action is potentially on the cards for nurses, teachers, train drivers and gardaí, to name a few.

And, of course, there is the ongoing Luas dispute.

With this in mind, could we be in for a series of strikes in the coming months? Here are some of the workers most likely to end up – or stay – on the picket line.

Luas drivers

After months of stalled talks, there was a breakthrough of sorts in the Luas dispute on Wednesday when strikes planned for Thursday and Friday were called off.

The planned stoppages were cancelled after Siptu accepted an invitation to talks at the Labour Court. Stoppages had been planned for four hours on Thursday and all day on Friday.

27/3/2016 LUAS Light Rail Industrial Disputes Source: RollingNews.ie

A series of four hour stoppages are still planned for six days in June, as the long-running dispute between drivers and management continues.

Negotiations have been very on-off in recent months, with no end in sight.

In one of the more recent twists, Transdev suspended the sick pay scheme for Luas workers and warned drivers if they proceed with the planned four-hour stoppages they will be docked a full day’s pay.

The absence rate for drivers is currently running at approximately 12%, compared to an absence figure of about 4.5% last year.

13/5/2016. Luas Drivers Strikes Disputes Source: Sam Boal

At the time, Siptu organiser Owen Reidy told Today with Seán O’Rourke Transdev’s behaviour is forcing workers to continue their action.

All they are doing is pouring fuel on the fire and making a difficult situation worse.

In reply, Transdev’s managing director Gerry Madden told the News at One the company had made drivers “very reasonable offers” and is “trying desperately to do a deal and be reasonable”.

Many people are keen for the dispute to end, particularly the 90,000 people who use the Luas every.

Train and bus drivers

Earlier this month the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) announced it was going to “postpone a ballot for industrial action and refer the issue of reversal of pay cuts at Irish Rail to the Labour Court after the company refused to agree to immediately cease pay reductions at the Workplace Relations Commission”.

In a statement, general secretary Dermot O’Leary said the union believes  the best route forward is “through dialogue”.

Despite the best efforts of Irish Rail to force our members down a road which would ultimately bring management and the workforce into disrepute, we feel that consideration by the Labour Court of the need of maintaining pay cuts at a time when revenue has dramatically improved, €42 million better than when the cuts were implemented, is both warranted and necessary.

In a letter sent to Iarnród Éireann in March, O’Leary said industry norms in public transport had been “brought into sharp focus” by the Luas dispute.

The NBRU said that drivers would not cooperate with new plans to introduce a new 10-minute frequency Dart service if a meaningful dialogue was not had on pay.

4/9/2014 Trains Stations Source: Sam Boal

The union said that the rail workers were looking for an immediate end to temporary pay reductions that were put in place in 2014. Employees want a 6% pay rise, which the union said has been due to them since 2009.

They also want pay rise “in line with industry norms”, which the union said is in the range of 8% to 19%. In total, this would amount to a maximum pay increase of 25%.

In a statement at the time, Irish Rail (Iarnrod Éireann) said that the comment by the NRBU were not “grounded in reality”.

Iarnrod Éireann remains in a very difficult financial position with annual losses, and an accumulated deficit of €135 million and is only paying wages and bills through loans.

“One of the measures taken was a temporary pay reduction ranging from 1.7% to 6.1% for 25 months and this will conclude in October of this year.

“That agreement is one that all unions including NBRU signed up to. The NBRU purport to understand our financial position so the comments of the union are not grounded in reality.”

Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann drivers are also seeking pay increases.

Nurses and doctors 

Earlier this month, the HSE suspended the recruitment of doctors, nurses and midwives in hospitals until further notice.

In a statement, the HSE said all posts were “being actively monitored … to ensure that clinical risks are appropriately managed”.

Specific exemptions have been determined for areas where funding has been agreed, and in areas of critical care and of emergency services.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) were not happy with the news and called on new Health Minister Simon Harris to intervene.

shutterstock_140404582 Source: Shutterstock/Lighthunter

David Hughes, INMO deputy general secretary, said hospitals are “already operating under severe strain due to lack of staffing”, saying the system is “short by over 3,600 nurses and midwives already”.

Nurses and midwives are at breaking point due to increasing demand for health services and staff shortages caused by previous embargoes during the recession. It is simply not possible to deliver safe care with such an embargo in place and this irresponsible act on the part of the HSE will cost lives.

The IMO described the recruitment ban as a “hammer blow“.

The group’s president, Dr John Duddy, said: “There are 300 vacant consultant posts and newly qualified doctors are emigrating rather than staying to work here.

“We are experiencing unprecedented difficulty in encouraging doctors to work in our public health service and in these circumstances it is ironic that the message from the HSE is don’t bother to apply – there is no future in Irish public hospitals…

Inevitably patients will continue to suffer in our emergency departments, face longer waiting lists and see their elective surgeries cancelled.

Meanwhile, psychiatric nurses across the country are to be balloted on industrial action over staff shortages. The Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) has said there are over 600 vacancies nationwide.

Following a recent work-to-rule at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, also over staff shortages, more industrial action in the health sector looks likely.

Teachers

Another long-running disagreement involves teachers.

Earlier this month, Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) members voted overwhelmingly to withdraw from working extra hours.

Members voted to stop working the additional 33 hours by 68.5% to 31.5%.

The hours came into place in 2011. Croke Park hours are additional working hours that were brought in by the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements.

The Department of Education released a statement saying that the move could cause “major disruption” for students and schools from September onwards.

A spokesperson for the ASTI said the hours don’t involve students and are for work done outside of school time, adding that pulling out of these hours “won’t affect students’ learning” and “won’t force schools to close”.

The spokesperson pointed out that teachers have to do a number of other duties as part of their work anyway, including parent-teacher meetings and lesson planning.

They said that the situation was “exacerbated by cutbacks during austerity years” and then the introduction of Croke Park hours.

The Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) is currently balloting members on this and other issues. Teachers’ opposition to Junior Certificate reforms could also cause more issues in the coming months.

Meanwhile, the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) has also warned that strike action could be on the cards due to staffing and resource shortages.

Gardaí

Gardaí are also frustrated with their working conditions, with some holding demonstrations outside Leinster House this month.

Middle-ranking gardaí marched on the Dáil on 17 May to demand their pay be restored to pre-recession levels.

Sergeants and inspectors have taken a 25% pay cut since 2008 and face another increment freeze in July.

Like their rank-and-file colleagues, they have rejected the latest public pay deal, the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) is seeking direct negotiating rights in accordance with an EU ruling in 2014, which directed members of the association should have trade union rights.

Sergeant Caimin Treacy, branch secretary of AGSI in Limerick, told TheJournal.ie whatever disposable income garda families had went out the window in 2008.

Any prior loans or commitments or anything you’d have, it’s virtually impossible to commit to them long-term. People have lost homes, lost cars, everything else. It’s just next to impossible to keep everything going.

“You’re living on borrowed money the whole time, you know.”

The AGSI national executive also held a picket outside the gates of Leinster House on 24 May.

Read: How did it come to this?: The many twists of the never-ending Luas strike

Read: ‘We’re living on borrowed money’: Middle-ranking gardaí protest over pay

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