Unions accuse Irish Rail boss of ‘ramping up’ pay dispute

David Franks warns staff this dispute could damage the company and workers’ earnings

Irish Rail staff are seen on a picket line outside Ceannt Station in Galway during Tuesday’s  24-hour rail strike. Photograph: PA

Irish Rail staff are seen on a picket line outside Ceannt Station in Galway during Tuesday’s 24-hour rail strike. Photograph: PA

 

Unions representing staff at Irish Rail have accused the company’s chief executive of “ramping up” the current pay dispute which has brought mainline, Dart and commuter train services to a halt nationwide again on Tuesday.

Tens of thousands of rail passengers again faced travel disruption on Tuesday as the 3,800 workers at the company staged a second 24-hour strike in a week as part of a dispute over pay. Luas services are operating as normal.

Traffic congestion is reportedly considerably worse this week in part because as last week’s stoppage took place during midterm.

Unions criticised a letter sent by Irish Rail chief David Franks on Monday which warned employees the dispute could be prolonged and inflict damage on the company and on workers’ earnings.

Mr Franks urged unions to take their pay claim to the Labour Court.

Siptu transport division organiser Greg Ennis said on Tuesday “threatening words” from Mr Franks had strengthened the resolve of his members.

The general secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) Dermot O’Leary said he had received communications from his members on foot of Mr Franks’ letter that they were determined to see out the dispute.

“That can only mean one thing; further disputes,” he said.

Three further 24-hour stoppages are planned; on 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, as part of the campaign by staff for a pay increase.

Unions have warned that if there is no resolution to the dispute there could be further strikes in the run-up to Christmas.

However, Mr Ennis said the unions “would not shut down Christmas”.

Mr O’Leary said the prospect of an immediate resolution to the pay dispute appeared “very slim”.

Staff at the State-owned rail operator are seeking a pay rise of 3.75 per cent, without provision of additional productivity.

The company said on Monday it had offered staff a 1.75 per cent increase for one year, to be facilitated by measures including performance management, absenteeism management, revisions to redeployment policy and payroll.

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 NBRU also accused Irish Rail of having planned for a series of strikes by staff in advance of the conclusion of talks on the unions’ pay claim.

The union pointed to a report in The Irish Times on Tuesday which said that Irish Rail had advised its parent CIÉ group in September that there was a risk of a five-day strike which could cost it €1.5 million in lost passenger revenue.

The company’s warning to the CIE group was given while talks with trade unions were still underway, before any ballots for industrial action had commenced and prior to any decision on the nature of the industrial action being announced.

The NBRU said the document published in The Irish Times backed up its view that the breakdown of talks at the Workplace Relations Commission in October on the pay claim had been “contrived by senior management, supported or perhaps directed, by the Department of Transport or the National Transport Authority in order to force Irish Rail workers onto the picket line”.