SIPTU pullout could split CIE union group


NEGOTIATIONS on the £44 million cost cutting viability plan for CIE have been thrown into disarray by a decision of senior SIPTU officials to resign from their positions as negotiators for the CIE group of unions.

High level contacts between the company, SIPTU and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions are expected to take place over the Christmas holiday to clarify the situation.

Formal talks on the viability plan are due to begin by January 9th and conclude by March 31st. Managements in the three CIE subsidiaries have identified wages and work practices as the areas in which to achieve 50 per cent of the savings needed to make them competitive.

The proposed changes could lead to more than 1,700 CIE employees losing their jobs and many drivers accepting reductions in pay of £100 to £150 a week.

The three SIPTU officials who have resigned are Mr Tony Tobin former chairman of the rail subcommittee of the CIE group of unions, Mr Ken Fleming, former chairman of the Dublin Bus subcommittee, and Mr John Pearson, former chairman of the Bus Eireann subcommittee.

Mr Tobin has also chaired meetings of the full CIE group when it meets, although it has no formal chairperson.

The secretary of the group, Mr Hugh Geraghty, is understood to have written to the general secretary of SIPTU, Mr Billy Attley, expressing concern at the effect the resignations could have at a time when maximum unity is needed between the CIE unions. Mr Geraghty and Mr Tobin have declined to comment.

SIPTU officials are understood" to have withdrawn from the group because they are unhappy with its constitution and procedures. They feel that craft unions have a disproportionate influence.

However, craft union members of the group say that they have generally followed the SIPTU lead in recent disputes, such as the one over CIE's refusal to pay the last 2.5 per cent of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work.

This could have led to a national transport strike on December 6th, but was averted following the intervention of the Labour Court.

The defection of SIPTU could lead to the break up of the CIE group of unions. This would leave no one for the company to negotiate with in formal terms.

It is unlikely that the company would want to see the March 31st deadline pass without any talks taking place. Given the unilateral decisions at corporate level in recent months to close Railink, to attempt to close the Claremorris freight line and to defer the PCW pay rise, there may well be an attempt to implement the viability plan unilaterally if there is a belief that the unions are hopelessly divided.

While Mr Geraghty and Mr Tobin would not comment on internal union problems, both made it clear that they would resist any attempts by the company to impose change. They are particularly anxious to stress that take home pay rates of CIE workers cannot be cut.