Train strike seems inevitable

Dispute could hit up to 100,000 passengers

Grand Canal Dock Dart station

Grand Canal Dock Dart station

Fri, Aug 22, 2014, 01:00

It now seems inevitable that the State’s rail network will come to a standstill on Sunday and Monday.

The strike may just be the first in a series of planned stoppages by members of the National Bus and Railworkers’ Union (NBRU) and Siptu in protest at plans by the company to unilaterally implement a controversial cost-savings plan. Overall up to 100,000 people could be affected by each working-day cancellation of train services as a result of the planned strike.

The State-owned train operator is seeking to put in place temporary pay cuts for its 3,000-plus staff. The temporary pay cuts range from 1.7 per cent for those earning less than €56,000 to 6 per cent for those on more than €100,000.

Talks on the proposed cost-saving measures have been under way for nearly two years without agreement.

There have been more than a dozen hearings in the Labour Relations Commission, a recommendation issued by the Labour Court, and a separate direct engagement between management and unions chaired by an independent facilitator.

While the proposed duration of the pay cuts has been reduced as part of the talks process from an initial 45 months to 25 months, there has been no agreement from members of the two largest unions in the company: Siptu and the NBRU. Other unions have accepted the plans.

Iarnród Éireann has said that, given the precarious nature of its financial position, it has no choice but to move now to implement the savings plan on a unilateral basis.

The company has already implemented cuts to the pay of senior management. In essence the company has been hit over recent years by a triple whammy of falling passenger numbers, rising fuel costs and a significant decrease in its funding from the exchequer.

In a statement this month Iarnród Éireann said it had “suffered a reduction in annual income of over €108 million or 38 per cent since the onset of the economic crisis – €72.3 million in public service obligation payments and €35.2 million in revenue”.

“Despite reducing annual operating costs by €73 million in the same period, the company has recorded losses annually in successive years, with a loss of €16.4 million in 2013. Continued losses are unsustainable, and the company requires payroll measures, further savings in non-payroll areas, business and revenue growth, and sustainable funding of services and network to address the financial situation.”

Unions argue that the debate cannot just be about payroll savings and there needs to be a broader look at issues such as service levels, waste and non-pay savings.

Iarnród Éireann is the third company in the broader CIÉ group to face industrial action over plans to introduce cost-savings. Last year there were limited strikes in both Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus before agreement was reached.

The fact that the train operator is the last company in the group to get to this stage could make reaching a deal harder. Staff in Bus Éireann, for example, are almost out of their cost-containment programme and are in line for restoration of earnings in January.

Some senior union sources said that as the mood-music in the economy was now more upbeat, it was making rail staff less willing to contemplate pay cuts.