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Dublin: 5 °C Tuesday 18 December, 2018
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Lack of public support for Irish Rail workers as unions say Christmas strike 'possible'

They’re also not happy with Transport Minister Shane Ross’ lack of intervention in the dispute.

90527117 Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Updated at 7.52am

THE SECOND OF five planned national rail strikes is taking place today.

Pay talks at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) collapsed last month and a solution doesn’t seem likely at present.

Further 24-hour works stoppages are planned on Tuesday 14 November, Thursday 23 November and Friday 8 December.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie ahead of today’s strike, NBRU general secretary Dermot O’Leary said he’s “not hopeful” that a breakthrough will happen soon.

“The last day of strike action planned at present is on 8 December, there’s not much of a window between that and the end of the year to find a solution.”

O’Leary said the NBRU and the four other unions involved in the dispute have not yet made a decision about striking over the Christmas period, but it’s a distinct possibility.

Unite Regional Officer Willie Quigley said that over the past decade Irish Rail’s workforce has “fallen by over 20%, while productivity measured in revenue per employee has grown by a massive 42%. Yet workers have been subjected to a near decade-long pay freeze…

“Unless management returns to the negotiating table with a credible offer, and the authorisation to make that offer, it is quite possible that industrial action will continue into the Christmas season,” Quigley said in a statement.

But after just one day of industrial action, workers seem to have gathered little sympathy from the public. In an Amárach Research poll carried out for the Claire Byrne Live, the majority of people said that they didn’t support the ongoing strike action by staff at Iarnród Éireann.

Of the 1,000 adults polled, 58% said they didn’t support the industrial action, 25% said they did, and 17% weren’t sure.

But Greg Ennis, Siptu’s TEAC (Transport, Energy, Aviation & Construction) Division Organiser agreed with Quigley, saying: “If Irish Rail don’t put forward a credible pay increase, I won’t rule out an escalation of the dispute.

Every dispute is ultimately resolved, it would be better if it’s resolved without further disruption to the travelling public. Strike action is most regrettable and does inconvenience commuters, we accept that.

“But members have been left with no option but to exercise their franchise to take industrial action. They have spent 10 years seeking a pay increase and had to deal with two years of temporary pay cuts.”

‘Becoming insolvent’

Ennis laid the blame for the strike firmly at Irish Rail’s door, saying the WRC talks collapsed because the company pulled back from a proposal “at the 11th hour”.

A spokesperson for Irish Rail denied this was the case, telling us: “At no point in the talks at the WRC did Iarnród Éireann propose or accept any proposal in excess of the 1.75% increase we proposed.

A pay increase which results in the company becoming insolvent, such as the one being sought by trade unions, cannot in any way be described as credible.

“We have worked to protect employees’ pay during the past 10 years, and we ensured increments continued to be paid during that time. A temporary 25-month pay reduction was reinstated in full last October, resulting in average earnings of over €62,000 per employee.”

It’s understood that Irish Rail workers are seeking a pay rise in the region of 3.75%, in line with what some other public transport workers have received.

The Irish Rail spokesperson said the company is “loss-making” and wants to “improve our employees’ earnings, but only in a way which the company can afford”.

“The resolution to this dispute lies in referring the outstanding differences to the Labour Court, as the Court requested we would – we are willing to do this, and would urge our unions to do likewise.”

‘Damage to our business and your income’ 

In a letter issued to employees yesterday, and seen by TheJournal.ie, Irish Rail said: “We should all be most concerned that a prolonged dispute – with the resulting damage to our customers, our business and your income – is becoming possible…

A prolonged dispute, which has been suggested in the media, will result in thousands of euros lost to each employee, and would mean that our ability to fund any increase in earnings could be completely undermined.

“We have seen in other transport companies how a failure to engage can lead to a lengthy stoppage, totalling many weeks in lost pay.”

Hitting out at Shane Ross

Unions have been critical of Transport Minister Shane Ross’ lack of intervention in the dispute.

Ennis told us: “I made it clear in July that a dispute was coming down the line and he didn’t act, he has sat on his hands for five months…

I don’t necessarily want to see or meet Shane Ross across a table, but he is the Minister for Transport and has a responsibility to both members of the public and people who work at Irish Rail.

O’Leary added: “Nothing that man says or does would surprise me. It strikes me, pardon the pun, that since he became minister he has been operating in many areas but not his actual brief.”

When asked for a response to the criticism, Ross reiterated his appeal for both Irish Rail and the trade unions to “engage realistically and constructively in negotiations to address the dispute”.

In a statement, Ross said: “I sincerely call on all parties to the Iarnród Éireann pay dispute to continue to use the services of the Labour Court and the WRC.

“It is vital for the travelling public – and also for the staff and for the company itself – that public transport is sustained, and that the dispute is resolved in a realistic, fair and workable manner.”

Here’s what commuters need to know about today’s strike. Alternative public transport options can be found on the National Transport Authority’s website.

- With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha

Read: Here’s what commuters need to know ahead of tomorrow’s rail strike

Read: Irish Rail staff to go on strike on five dates in November and December

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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