Dublin public transport users face double disruption

Analysis: Dublin Bus and Iarnród Éireann rows are heading towards industrial action

Dublin Bus staff have rejected a proposed 8.2 per cent pay rise over three years.  File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Dublin Bus staff have rejected a proposed 8.2 per cent pay rise over three years. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

It is now quite conceivable that public transport passengers could face disruption both on the railways and to bus services in Dublin at the same time in the second half of August.

Following their emphatic rejection of an 8.2 per cent pay rise over three years proposed earlier this month by the Labour Court, staff at Dublin Bus represented by Siptu, the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) will now ballot on whether they are willing to take industrial action to pursue higher increases.

Meanwhile, Iarnród Éireann workers who are members of Siptu and the NBRU are to vote on proposals for industrial action, following the collapse of talks at the Workplace Relations Commission this week on a number of long-running issues.

These issues include pay for past productivity, reduced working hours and the training of new drivers for the Dart system.

At the heart of the disputes in both companies is the issue of pay and conditions.

Staff at Iarnród Éireann, Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, which all form part of the broader State-owned CIÉ transport group, experienced pay reductions following the economic crash, as the companies faced a triple whammy of falling State subventions, declining passenger numbers and rising fuel costs.

Temporary earnings reductions for staff in Dublin Bus have now ended.

However, a 25-month agreement which saw pay for rail workers cut by between 1.6 and 6.1 per cent is scheduled to continue until October.

With a recovery in the economy and growing passenger numbers, the unions have argued that the era of austerity is over and pay rises should therefore be on the agenda.

The recent Luas dispute also added to the dynamics at play within the CIÉ companies.

The settlement to the Luas strike saw tram drivers receive pay increases of about 18 per cent over 4 years.

Unions representing staff in the CIÉ companies considered an increase of this scale to be a new norm for the overall transport sector.

Workers at Dublin Bus have sought rises of up to 31 per cent, while train workers said they were pursuing claims of 25 per cent.

There was deep disappointment among Dublin Bus workers that the Labour Court did not recommend rises that at least matched the level that the court had put forward in the settlement of the Luas row.

Following the formal rejection of the Labour Court’s proposed 8.2 per cent rise on Friday, unions will now ballot for industrial action, unless Dublin Bus itself comes up with a higher offer.

This ballot will probably be completed by the end of next week or early the following week.

If staff support the concept of industrial action, the unions will have to give the company at least seven-days’ notice.

The ballot for industrial action at Iarnród Éireann is expected to be completed by August 16th.

This means that, if members back the proposals, there could be industrial action towards the end of next month.

Pay and conditions

Unions at Iarnród Éireann have been pressing the company for improvements to pay and conditions on a number of fronts for some time.

The Labour Court will hold hearings shortly on calls by staff for an early end to the current 25-month pay reduction agreement.

The claim for a 25 per cent pay rise is currently the subject of local discussions in the company.

However, it is the staff demands for payment for past productivity measures and a reduction in working hours that has brought about the current flashpoint at Iarnród Éireann.

These issues were examined in a recent independent report and its findings were to be considered over three days at the Workplace Relations Commission this week.

However, that process collapsed after unions said management wanted to cherry-pick the agenda and only talk about the issue of non-co-operation by existing workers with the training of new Dart drivers.

Under existing arrangements, the mentoring of new drivers is voluntary.

Despite this, the company believes there has been an orchestrated campaign to block the training of nine new Dart drivers as a means of giving the staff more leverage in their campaign for improved pay and conditions.

Earlier this year, objections by drivers also led to the cancellation of plans to introduce a Dart service that would run every 10 minutes, which was one of the company management’s main objectives for 2016.