Unions warn rail dispute could escalate further

Three days of strikes planned for next month

Clean-up at Connolly station in Dublin yesterday. Siptu does not yet have a mandate for an all-out strike. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Clean-up at Connolly station in Dublin yesterday. Siptu does not yet have a mandate for an all-out strike. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Tue, Aug 26, 2014, 01:00

With three further days of strikes planned for next month, unions yesterday warned that the dispute over pay cuts at Iarnród Éireann, which brought the country’s rail network to a standstill for the last two days, could escalate even further in the weeks ahead.

Members of the National Bus and Railworkers Union (NBRU) and Siptu yesterday placed pickets at rail stations and depots around the country in protest at the unilateral decision by management at Iarnród Éireann to introduce temporary pay cuts for staff ranging from 1.6 per cent to 6 per cent. The cuts came into effect on Sunday and are scheduled to run for 28 months.

The strike yesterday affected about 100,000 people.

Sources close to some of the parties in the dispute have indicated privately that they expected some form of intervention, possibly towards the end of the week or early next week, in a bid to head off the next round of strikes at the State-owned rail operator, which are planned for September 7th and 8th.

Intervene

However, as of now, there is no indication of new talks being convened.

Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe has declined to intervene personally in the dispute. He said last Friday that the State’s industrial relations machinery was monitoring the situation and would engage at the appropriate time.

The executive of the NBRU will meet on September 23rd to consider what further action to take if there is no resolution by that stage. The union’s general secretary, Dermot O’Leary, said yesterday that it already had a mandate from members for action up to an all-out strike, if necessary.

Other potential options in the future could include light

ning strikes to last for several hours.

Siptu does not have a mandate for an all-out strike and would have to ballot members again.

Some informed sources said yesterday that Siptu could hold another ballot of members if circumstances changed materially, for example, if plans for compulsory redundancies were announced.

Speaking next to the picket line at Dublin’s Connolly Station yesterday Siptu organiser Paul Cullen said further strike days were arranged for September 7th, 8th and 21st.

“If management [of Iarnród Éireann] continues to persist with this, this dispute will be escalated beyond that,” he said.

Deficit

In a later statement he said: “Our members do not believe that the cuts they are being asked to take will be the last they will be expected to endure. Due to the cuts in funding to the rail service the company is operating with a deficit of approximately €60 million. There is no indication that the National Transport Authority or Department of Transport have any plans on how to offset this deficit other than expecting Irish Rail staff to endure further cuts.

“The solution to this dispute rests with management reversing its decision to cut our members’ wages and entering into serious talks with workers’ representatives on the future of Irish Rail. If this does not happen Siptu members in Iarnród Éireann will conduct a further 48- hour work stoppage on Sunday, 7th September, and a 24- hour work stoppage on Sunday, 21st September.”

Iarnród Éireann said it would run out of money by the middle of next year if cost savings were not put in place. It said it had no choice but to unilaterally introduce the temporary pay cuts.

Iarnród Éireann spokesman Barry Kenny said the pay bill accounted for 60 per cent of the company’s costs. He said there was no way of bridging the funding gap facing the company without getting some savings from pay. He said the company believed its proposals for temporary pay cuts were modest.

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