Unions to oppose ‘flawed’ EU plan to tender rail services

Siptu says proposal is a ‘clear and naked attack’ on Ireland’s railway workers

A file image showing Iarnród Éireann taking delivery of a new intercity railcar carriage in 2011. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

A file image showing Iarnród Éireann taking delivery of a new intercity railcar carriage in 2011. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Train unions representing staff in Iarnród Éireann have said they will strongly oppose proposals put forward by the EU Commission that the contract to run rail services in Ireland be put out to international tender.

Trade union Siptu said the initiative represented a clear and naked attack on rail workers.

It maintained that the EU proposal, which it described as “flawed ,” would do nothing to assist rail users and had the potential to undermine the operation of our coherent and integrated transport system.

The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) warned that “giving the operation of services over to the private sector, where profit is demanded, will inevitably lead to the death knell for a large portion of Irelands railways”.

The Irish Times reported on Thursday that the EU Commission is arguing for more liberalisation in the Irish transport sector. It wants the contract for operating rail services to be put out to tender.

Such a move raises the possibility that the State-owned rail company could lose out to other competitors on operating some services.

Iarnród Éireann’s 10-year contract to run Ireland’s rail services is up for renewal in 2019.

The Government is strongly resisting the EU proposals, amid concerns it could cause major financial and industrial relations problems for the State.

The Government’s stance is being strongly backed by unions representing staff at Iarnród Éireann.

Siptu utilities division organiser Owen Reidy told The Irish Times the EU proposal, if allowed to proceed, would lead to a severe erosion in terms and conditions of employment in Irish Rail.

He said this could lead to industrial relations chaos.

NBRU general secretary Dermot O’Leary said: “The argument for privatising rail does not stand up, it is a failed political ideology driven by neo-liberal zealots, who on the one hand champion austerity, whilst on the other they push for public services to be siphoned off to those who place profit ahead of service.

“Privatising rail in the UK has failed miserably in terms of providing value for the taxpayer, subsidy having trebled since privatisation, the irony here is that Irish Rail is seriously underfunded, giving the operation of services over to the private sector, where profit is demanded, will inevitably lead to the death knell for a large portion of Irelands railways.”

Mr Reidy said the Irish rail market was small and only required one operator.

“An attempt to implement the proposals in the ‘Fourth Railway Package’ will see international operators seeking to cherry pick attractive lines to maximise profit at the expense of rail users and workers.

He said Siptu would lobby all political parties on the matter “to ensure there is universal support across political lines for this government, or any successor, to seek a derogation to these proposals”.

“We will also continue working with other transport unions across Europe through our participation in the European Transport Workers Federation to prevent these flawed plans from being enforced.”