Train strike on Tuesday deferred for vote on pay
Irish rail staff would receive 7.5% pay increase plus €500 voucher under Labour Court recommendation
The three further strikes are planned for Tuesday, November 14th, the day of Ireland’s home World Cup play-off tie with Denmark; Thursday, November 23rd; and Friday, December 8th, traditionally a busy Christmas shopping day. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Planned strikes by rail workers over the coming weeks have been called off pending a ballot on new pay proposals.
The Labour Court recommended on Friday that workers at Irish Rail should receive increases of 2.5 per cent for three years.
In addition the 3,800 workers would, under the Labour Court proposals, receive a once-off €500 tax-free voucher .
The recommendation also calls for talks on productivity and reforms to be completed by next April, which unions believe could deliver further pay rises.
Siptu transport organizer Greg Ennis said the Labour Court proposals were the best that could be achieved and were worthy of being put to ballot.
He said consequently the three 24-hour strikes planned for the weeks ahead, scheduled to begin on Tuesday, would be deferred to allow for a ballot of members.
The ballots are to be counted on December 8th.
“The two days of industrial action that have taken place so far were regrettable and unnecessary. But our case has been just and hopefully our members’ ten-year pay freeze will come to an end should the Labour Court recommendation be accepted,” Mr Ennis said.
The general secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union Dermot O’Leary said the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had been proven to be wrong when he made statements that rail workers would be no better off after the strike than before the strike.
“I have news for the Taoiseach. When we left the Workplace Relations Commission on October 19th with an offer of 1.75 per cent. We are sitting here today talking about 2.5 per cent annually for three years,” Mr O’Leary said.
Irish Rail said it welcomed the suspension of the strikes. The company said it was reviewing the Labour Court’s recommendation “in the context of its challenging financial position”.
The two recent 24-hour train strikes cost Irish Rail €1.2 million, the company told the Labour Court in a confidential submission presented on Thursday.
The stoppages were costing the company € 900,000 for each day although this was being offset by savings of € 300,000, according to the submission.
The company said its financial position did not allow for the provision of no-strings attached pay rises that were not facilitated by efficiency measures to generate savings on payroll and no-payroll costs.
“The embedding of any further cost in the organisation without efficiency/productivity measures to offset these costs would not be possible and would ultimately impact on the job security of all our 3,800 employees.”
It said it had offered a one-year 1.75 per cent offer.
However, Irish Rail said the current rail review under consideration by Government as well as future contract negotiations with the National Transport Authority and the Department of Transport due to take place next year represented an opportunity to seek new funding levels.
It said it was committed to make all reasonable efforts to secure funds from the department and the National Transport Authority in order to assist in funding pay increases.
“Potential pay increases for 2019 and 2020 need to be considered in light of these re-negotiations.”
Irish Rail also said if passenger revenue exceeded the anticipated amounts, a proportion could be used to assist in funding pay increases.
The company said its board in October had set a challenging target for revenue for 2018 of € 205.6 million.
However it said its budget for next year was only approved by the board on the basis that additional State funding of € 103 million per year as suggested under the current rail review would be provided by the Department of Transport and the National Transport Authority.
However the company said that “this has not been confirmed”.
Unions told the Labour Court in a submission on Thursday their members in Irish Rail had not had a pay rise for 10 years and they were seeking a pay increase of 3.75 per cent per year for three years, retrospective to October 2016.
Unions have argued that they want increases without the provision of additional productivity.
The company says the unions’ pay claim would cost € 43 million over three years and given its precarious financial position would push it towards insolvency.
The company maintained it had accumulated deficits of € 160 million.
In its submission to the Labour Court, the group of unions representing staff at Irish Rail argued that accounts for 2016 were “not a description of a company falling apart, performing poorly or teetering on the brink of insolvency”.
They maintained that official board documentation indicated that the financial figures for 2017 would “ reflect a continuation of this upward positive trend”.
Unions said passenger revenue in 2016 was the highest recorded in the history of the company at € 193.7 million. It said rail freight revenue, including Navigator Freight Forwarding, increased from € 8.8 million to € 9 million last year.
The unions’ submission maintained passenger numbers grew by eight per cent to 42.8 million, which included an 11 per cent growth in DART business.
It also said Rosslare Europort saw increases in all major business sectors, including passenger cars (4.5 per cent), Ro-Ro Freight units (4.3 per cent) and trade vehicle imports (8.3 per cent).
Unions said the fundamental question was why Irish Rail was claiming to be on the brink of insolvency.
“Record passenger numbers and revenues with 20 per cent less staff should have the Irish Rail accounts firmly in the black despite an approximate 40 per cent reduction in subvention since 2007.
“As previously highlighted in our submissions, Irish Rail continue to re-direct operational cash into track and engine maintenance.
“Staff, by virtue of a ten year pay freeze (which according to a Ministerial briefing document, again included in our original submissions, equates to a 13 percent pay cut) are effectively subsidising public rail transport.”
Unions said the situation under which the National Transport Authority (NTA), issued direct award contracts which made little or no provision for pay increases, represented “ yet another complicating factor in this dispute”.