IRISH rail unions on Monday warned that the dispute over pay cuts at Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail), which brought the country’s rail network to a standstill for two days, could escalate even further in the weeks ahead.
With three further days of strikes planned for September 7th and 8th and 21st, members of the National Bus and Railworkers Union (NBRU) and Siptu on Monday placed pickets at rail stations and depots around the country in protest at the unilateral decision by management to introduce ‘temporary’ pay cuts for staff ranging from 1.6 per cent to 6 per cent. The cuts came into effect on Sunday and are scheduled to run for 28 months.
Speaking on the picket line Monday, Siptu organiser Paul Cullen said: ‘If management continues to persist with this, this dispute will be escalated beyond that.’
In a later statement he said: ‘It is regrettable that the 2,100 SIPTU members in Irish Rail have had to take this action but they were left with no alternative following a management decision to impose a unilateral cut to their wages.
‘Our members are manning picket lines at locations throughout the rail network including all the major stations in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway.
‘Our members do not believe that the cuts they are being asked to take will be the last they will be expected to endure.
‘Due to the cuts in funding to the rail service, the company is operating with a deficit of approximately 60 million euros.
‘There is no indication that the National Transport Authority or Department of Transport have any plans on how to offset this deficit other than expecting Irish Rail staff to endure further cuts.
‘The solution to this dispute rests with management reversing its decision to cut our members’ wages and entering into serious talks with workers’ representatives on the future of Irish Rail.
‘If this does not happen Siptu members in Irish Rail will conduct a further 48-hour work stoppage on Sunday, 7th September, and a 24-hour work stoppage on Sunday, 21st September.’
It is estimated that Monday’s strike affected about 100,000 commuters and workers, including fans from Mayo and Kerry coming up for the Gaelic Athletic Association football semi-final.
The last two days of action coincide with the Gaelic Athletic Association All-Ireland hurling and football finals in Dublin’s 82,000 capacity Croke Park, traditionally the biggest dates on the annual sporting calender.
There has been talk of some form of government intervention, possibly towards the end of the week or early next week, in a bid to head off the next round of strikes at the State-owned rail operator.
However, by Tuesday, there was no indication of new talks being convened.
Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe has declined to intervene personally in the dispute. He said last Friday that the government’s industrial relations machinery was monitoring the situation and would engage at the appropriate time.
The executive of the NBRU will meet on September 23rd to consider what further action to take if there is no resolution by that stage. NBRU general secretary, Dermot O’Leary, said on Monday that it already had a mandate from members for action up to an all-out strike, if necessary.
Other potential options in the future could include lightning strikes to last for several hours. He said: ‘We are having a review on September 23 and as far as the National Bus and Rail Union is concerned, we have a mandate for industrial action including all-out strike. If the company persists with the application of non-agreed pay cuts, we will look at that mandate again.’
In a press statement issued on Saturday, 23rd August, O’Leary said: ‘It is regrettable that the impact of the Company’s decision to cut our members wages will be widely felt by those who use the train as a mode of transport, in making their decision the Company, supported it would appear by the Minister, have chosen to ignore the concerns of staff in relation to the future of the railway.’
O’Leary went on to say: ‘Funding for public transport is a responsibility of government not staff, the Minister, who is after all the shareholder needs to involve himself in addressing the underlying issues at play here.
‘It is clear that you cannot strip out funding from a public service and expect that it would continue to operate at anything approaching the levels which currently obtain. Staff do not have trust or confidence in either the Company or the government with regard to the future sustainability of rail in this Country, asking them to plug a funding gap is not a sustainable platform from which to provide a public transport system.’
Siptu does not have a mandate for an all-out strike and would have to ballot members again.
Siptu could hold another ballot of members if circumstances changed materially, for example, if plans for compulsory redundancies were announced.
Irish Rail said it would run out of money by the middle of next year if cost savings were not put in place. It said it had no choice but to unilaterally introduce the temporary pay cuts.
Spokesman Barry Kenny said the pay bill accounted for 60 per cent of the company’s costs. He said there was no way of bridging the funding gap facing the company without getting some savings from pay, and the company believed its proposals for temporary pay cuts were modest.
• The introduction of new retirement ages at the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) is one of the stumbling blocks to achieving a resolution to a long-running pension dispute, Siptu has warned.
Siptu pension advisor Dermot O’Loughlin, last week wrote a letter to the DAA’s group head of employee relations, John McCormack, outlining concerns the union’s members have to put recommendations forward earlier in the summer by an expert panel.
That government-backed expert panel was established to break an impasse in negotiations aimed at tackling a near 800m euros deficit at the Irish Airlines Superannuation Scheme (IASS).
The IASS serves thousands of former and current workers at the DAA, Aer Lingus and Shannon Airport. In his letter to McCormack, O’Loughlin and Siptu aviation sector organiser Greg Ennis, said that the additional funding – the expert panel said the DAA should contribute to resolve the IASS issue – isn’t enough.
They also pointed out to McCormack that the expert panel had ‘failed to give significant weight to key objectives of the (pensions) committee’ but appeared to have ‘overcompensated with regard to the DAA’s and Shannon Airport’s strategic objectives’.
The deficit at the IASS needs to be urgently addressed or the trustee could eventually be forced to wind up the pension scheme. Siptu said it remained available to discuss its concerns with DAA management in order to finalise a resolution.