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Dublin: 11 °C Wednesday 23 October, 2019
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"We're looking for a fair slice of the company we've helped build"

Luas drivers speak about their long-running dispute.

13/5/2016. Luas Drivers Strikes Disputes Luas drivers Neil Mac Donnell and Alan Kavanagh at Sandyford last week. Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

‘WE’RE BECOMING MORE entrenched.’

The Luas strike has been going for 12 days over four months with two sides who seem to be moving farther apart.

And as the dispute goes on, the patience of an already restless public has started to wear even thinner.

But drivers mounting the picket at the Red Cow in Dublin yesterday insist they’re in it for the long-haul and that the public does have an interest in supporting their fight.

First off, Luas driver Eddie Jones argues that it’s not the public’s money they’re seeking a bigger share of.

“When the profits come in, they’ll take the profits and take them to France and we don’t get the money. People aren’t realising that,” he says of Luas operator Transdev.

Jones’ argument is one that’s put forward by many drivers on the picket-line yesterday.

7/5/2016. New Luas Cross City Works The Luas Cross City will mean more work for the drivers. Source: Sam Boal

They contend that they’ve been a key part of the Luas success story over the past 12 years and want a bigger slice of the pie before further planned expansions come into play.

Longer lines out to Saggart and the Point are just two that have been been built since the Luas first start rolling in 2004. The Luas Cross City service is currently being laid down in central Dublin and longer trams are also in the pipeline.

“We’re looking for a fair slice of the company we’ve helped build,” says 12-year Luas driver Ben Watson.

For nearly 12 years people have been talking about how good the Luas is. It’s won awards for punctuality of trams, customer satisfaction. People globally say, ‘Brilliant, look at Luas in Dublin it’s brilliant.’ Gerry Madden arrived here six months ago and he makes it look like he’s been here 12 years.

Pretty much every single driver who spoke yesterday mentioned Transdev Ireland’s managing director by name and the dispute certainly feels a bit personal at this point.

IMG_2543 Luas drivers Ben Watson and Niall Cahill on the picket at the Red Cow. Source: TheJournal.ie

Jonathan Somers agrees. He says he feels hurt by the company of late by being demonised in the media.

“The Luas has been running for 12 years and it’s been built on the drivers’ work ethic, and everything we’ve done we’ve done to promote it from the front line.”

We’ve made it a success. Hail, rain and snow, like back in 2010 and 2011 with the heavy snows. Coming in at three o’clock in the morning, driving down the M50 on your own in a car to get in and get people to work early in the morning.

Unseen 

It’s this unseen work that the drivers point to.

They say that their shifts start as early as 4am and finish as late as 1am with drivers rostered on 364 days a year. The 172 drivers also have to work every second weekend and the Bank Holiday days they work are repaid in the form of days in lieu.

Luas strike The empty Red Cow Luas stop. Source: Niall Carson/PA Wire

These hours do nothing for work-life-balance, according to Jones.

“My daughter only proved it to me yesterday,” he says.

I came in on Monday morning and I brought my daughter to school. I went into work at 12pm and came home at 9.30pm, my daughter was in bed. I did the same thing the following morning and the day after. When I came home my daughter was in bed and I was in at nine o’clock the next morning. I didn’t even see my daughter for the best part of three days. I saw her for about an hour over three days.

He says that drivers aren’t looking for these hours to be reduced but that Transdev’s plan to move shifts from from nine hours to nine-and-a-half hours needs to be properly compensated.

IMG_2546 Yesterday was the 12th day day of strike action. Source: TheJournal.ie

The drivers repeatedly say that they don’t want to be on strike but that they feel like they’ve little other option. They also argue that, with privatisation becoming more prevalent in the transport sector, the stand they’re taking is a worthwhile one for transport workers in Bus Éireann, Irish Rail and so on.

Watson points out that Transdev is planning to bid for Irish bus routes that are to be put out to tender.

Increases

In terms of what they are seeking, (a detailed breakdown is available here), it’s somewhat muddled after a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) recommendation was rejected by the drivers.

That increase proposed an 18.7% rise over 33 months but the company is now saying that it will only talk to drivers if they’re on board with a 13% increase.

Sitting down at the table with a precondition of 13% would be a “humiliation”, according to one driver.

Read: FactCheck: Are Luas drivers really paid more than junior doctors? >

“Luas drivers are in resolution mode, we’ve been in resolution mode for some time now,” says driver Joe Carrick.

They are in humiliation mode. They want us to accept a deal lower than what the WRC recommended and they know our members aren’t going to accept that.

Carrick says that he wants the state’s industrial mechanisms to bring the parties to the table but that this won’t work if there are preconditions attached to it.

13/5/2016. Luas Drivers Strikes Disputes Empty tracks on the Luas Green Line. Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Simplistic

As drivers prepared for yesterday’s strike, the national media was discussing a suggestion from a Fine Gael councillor that the entire Luas system should be automated.

Such accusations have been thrown at the drivers since the dispute began, the notion that their job is ‘easy’ and therefore undeserving of a pay increase.

As every driver points out, the mechanics of the job is the smallest part of it. Staying alert and focused when you’ve been up since 3am and there are pedestrians and cyclists criss-crossing in front of you is the stressful bit.

“This is a health and safety job, people don’t understand it because they’re not doing it,” says driver Niall Cahill.

“They say it’s easy and maybe it’s easy when you’re trained up right,” according to another driver.

But mentally, driving a tram is very difficult and adding to the stress of people driving trams is not right.

IMG_2544 Luas drivers Eddie Jones and Jonathan Somers. Source: TheJournal.ie

Other drivers make the comparison with motorists who may find it ‘easy’ to actually drive a car but mentally taxing on a four-hour car journey.

“People compare us to nurses and guards,” says Kevin Healy. “And yes that’s a very difficult job and a very responsible job and, of course, it takes much more training for what they do.

But in terms of our concentration levels, we have to be consistently on the ball. Now, you go out driving, we’re driving for three to three-and-a-half hours. And if you think about it, that’s like a drive down to Cork. Now think about having a break and having to drive back up again.

“If you’ve done that for four days in a row and you’ve been up out of your bed at five o’clock in the morning and you’ve kids on the road keeping you up and you’re not getting any sleep it becomes difficult.

A nurse, I know nurses are very busy but they may be able to stop for five minutes and have a chat or something, but we don’t have that. Every minute of our day is recorded and catalogued.

Read: Annoyed at the ongoing Luas strikes? Apply for a refund >

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

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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