Train strike looms as NBRU to ballot drivers over action

Union accuses Irish Rail of ‘unprecedented attack’ on industrial relations

A train at  Heuston Station, Dublin.  Photograph: Eric Luke

A train at Heuston Station, Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Train drivers at Irish Rail are to ballot for an all-out strike in a dispute over mentoring of new driving staff.

The National Bus and Rail Union said it would ballot all train and Dart drivers for strike action “as a result of an unprecedented attack on long-standing industrial relations procedures by forcing changes to terms and conditions within the training regime without agreement”.

The ballot result is expected to be known by about February 20th. The union would have to give one week’s notice of any strike action.

However, sources said any move by the company to force through changes could lead to an unofficial dispute before then.

Train drivers overwhelmingly rejected a deal last month which would have seen them receive a 1.15 per cent pay rise for past productivity in return for co-operation in mentoring about 30 new drivers.

Up to now, mentoring has been viewed as a voluntary arrangement.

However, management at Irish Rail told staff last month that from January 25th, it would pay the 1.15 per cent rise for past productivity in addition to a recently-agreed general pay increase of 2.5 per cent, which is being paid to all staff.

Management also said that from that time, it would amend drivers’ terms and conditions “to reflect the fact that the mentoring of trainee drivers is a requirement of the role of train drivers, eliminating any suggestion that this task is voluntary in nature”.

Irish Rail said that when undertaking mentoring arrangement, drivers would be paid an allowance of €31 per day - an increase of 35 per cent on the existing rate of €23.

The company maintained that the new drivers are required to facilitate plans for a 10-minute frequency Dart service and the expansion of commuter services.

NBRU general secretary Dermot O’Leary said management at the State-owned rail operator had set themselves on a course of major confrontation with train drivers.

He said management had “dispensed with longstanding practice, by completely ignoring the jointly agreed procedures around how industrial relation matters are addressed.

Irish Rail said that driver training had to be allowed to resume. The company said any industrial action would damage the interests of both commuters and train drivers. It said it would welcome the opportunity for engagement with unions .

“Due to a withdrawal of trade union co-operation with driver mentoring over the past 21 months, Iarnród Éireann has had to repeatedly defer the introduction of an increased 10-minute Dart frequency, and expansion of other commuter services, while passenger numbers have increased to record levels of 45.5 million in 2017,” the company said.

“In addition, this has seen the career progression of over 30 trainee drivers - employees and trade union members - stalled, as trade union non-co-operation prevented them from completing training, training which existing drivers have benefited from in the past.”

The company said it had engaged “repeatedly and extensively” with unions to resolve the issue over the past two years, under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission and Labour Court, resulting in a Labour Court recommendation last July addressing driver mentoring and past productivity.

It said unions requested a further engagement to develop a framework with the assistance of Kevin Duffy, former chairman of the Labour Court, to which it agreed.

Meanwhile, Siptu said its members who drive inter-city rail and DART trains will also ballot for strike action. The strike ballot will commence in the coming days and the result is expected within two weeks.