herald

Thursday 8 December 2016

Commuter chaos amid marathon talks to avert rail stoppage

Dart
Dart
Pascal Donohoe

Commuters faced travel chaos this morning, with a three-hour stoppage by the country's train drivers due to take place.

Marathon talks, which resumed earlier this week, continued late last night in a long-running dispute over payment for past productivity measures by train drivers.

The stoppage, which affects all DART, commuter and inter-city services, was set to begin at 6am and continue until 9am - the peak times for commuters.

The threat of industrial action has forced thousands of travellers to make alternative plans for getting to work and school, with shoppers and tourists also set to suffer from the stoppage.

Irish Rail has also warned that it could have a knock-on effect on services later in the day, with delays to trains and cancellations possibly continuing into the morning and afternoon.

Dublin Bus last night warned passengers to allow extra travel time this morning.

Bus Eireann said it would not have access to additional drivers or vehicles as the October bank holiday weekend is traditionally one of the busiest, with extra coaches already accounted for.

Talks resumed at 2pm yesterday and continued late last night. At one point Irish Rail said it had made a proposal that would deliver pay increases to the tune of 7.9pc for drivers.

However, the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) and Siptu, the unions representing striking workers, rejected the claims and said Irish Rail management was "misleading" the public and union members.

The unions previously criticised the company and said those who were at the negotiating table did not have the power to agree to certain terms, and instead were referring back to others.

There are now growing fears that today's threatened action will spark further industrial unrest, with Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe warning yesterday that the strike could have a severe impact on the heavily indebted rail company.

Upheaval

"Specifically, my concern is that what could happen tomorrow would be a trigger for immense upheaval to commuters and financial loss to Irish Rail," the minister said.

"I'm more concerned that we could be entering a period of ongoing industrial relations and financial difficulty within Irish Rail."

The company is believed to be losing €1m every month and has accumulated losses t of around €135m.

Irish Rail has argued at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) that it is not in a position to meet the demands of train drivers and says today's action will only heap further financial pressure on it.

Tanaiste Joan Burton said yesterday that the "biggest losers" from any strike would be commuters and bank holiday travellers.

Businesses in Dublin city are set to lose out on €1m, and representative groups say the reputational damage to the capital will be much greater.

All week businesses were scrambling to make alternative arrangements to try to minimise the disruption from any stoppage today.

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