Unite becomes latest union to ballot for Irish Rail strike

Industrial action looks likely to go ahead October bank holiday weekend


Unite has become the latest union to announce a ballot for industrial action following the breakdown of pay talks with Irish Rail.

The union announced on Thursday that it will be balloting over 100 craftsmen it represents in Irish Rail over the coming weeks, with the possibility of coordinated strike action mooted for the October bank holiday weekend.

Unite joins the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) and Siptu in balloting for industrial action against Irish Rail after the company refused to meet demands for a 3.75 per cent pay rise for staff during talks held earlier this week.

“The unions had hoped that the situation in Iarnród Éireann could be resolved, allowing space for all stakeholders to engage and map out a sustainable future for public transport in Ireland,” organiser Willie Quigley said. He continued:

“As matters stand, however, we will be balloting in the coming weeks for industrial action at Iarnród Éireann up to and including strike action.”

Siptu has urged Minister for Transport Shane Ross to intervene in the dispute after he called for the company and unions to return to talks.

“Rather than allow a situation to develop which results in another transport dispute which will only damage the company, inconvenience the travelling public and result in more financial hardship for our members it is essential that the Minster accepts his responsibilities and intervenes now rather than later,” union representative Willie Noone said.

Fianna Fáil transport spokesman Robert Troy has accused the Minister of failing to take the necessary steps to avoid a rail service stoppage.

“It’s deeply disappointing that this situation has been allowed to deteriorate to such an extent that strike action is now on the cards. This will cause significant hardship for those that rely on Irish Rail services.

“Minister Ross needs to get his act together and move to resolve this situation,” he said on Thursday.

Meanwhile, a commuter group has said that rail users have “very little sympathy” for Iarnród Éireann staff and feel like pawns in the dispute between Irish Rail and the unions.

Mark Gleeson, the spokesman for Rail Users Ireland, said any disruption to rail services could cause huge problems for rail users because most did not have alternative transport.

“Passengers are unhappy and want a reasonable service and the guarantee that a year from now the trains will be running,” he said.

“We are continuously under the shadow of the threat of industrial action that sometimes happens with very little advance notice. Decisions are reached at 2am and we don’t know until the morning when we’re going to work.”

Unions at the State-owned rail operator are to ballot about 4,000 staff in the company for strike action after talks with management broke down on Wednesday night after nearly 12 hours.

Pay increases of 3.75 per cent annually without any additional productivity concessions - similar to rises secured by staff at Dublin Bus and Luas after strikes last year - had been sought by trade unions.

However, staff representatives said Iarnród Éireann management had proposed increases of 1.5 per cent, which were linked to staff support for a number of reforms including outsourcing and some rail line closures.

Mr Gleeson told the Seán O’Rourke show on RTÉ Today passengers had seen an increase in fares but not in service.

“We’re subsidising Irish Rail not the State,” he said.

“We’re frustrated that all the promises made were not delivered. Irish Rail has cut back costs, they’ve cut staff.

“They’ve demanded efficiencies to save money but they will cost more in the long run.”

When asked if he thought the State subvention to Irish Rail should be restored to previous levels, he said that fundamental issues needed to be addressed first.

“Do you want to give a blank cheque to Irish Rail?”

Earlier on Thursday, the general secretary of the NBRU Dermot O’Leary also said that the timing of threatened industrial action over the October bank holiday weekend was not deliberate.

“The time frame was not in our hands,” he said.

Mr O’Leary told Newstalk Breakfast it would take three weeks to ballot members and then a week to serve notice of industrial action.

It was an unfortunate situation, he added, that it was now looking inevitable that industrial action would take place on the bank holiday weekend.

Mr O’Leary said the Minister for Transport has a rail review from the National Transport Authority that said the railway network is underfunded and should receive €125million “to plug the gap”.

Railworkers have not had a raise in 10 years, he said. The pay claim had been lodged 18 months ago and despite numerous visits to the WRC agreement could not be reached.

“Some of the stuff they want is completely off the wall,” he said.

The key issues according to Mr O’Leary are: closure of some rail lines; outsourcing of work; forced re-location; freezing increments and performance management.

Staff had already helped the company achieve €70million in reduced costs, he said and there had been a reduction in staff of 20 per cent.