Thursday 27 October 2016

Good news for commuters: Irish Rail strike called off - full service to operate today

The Dart train hit boulders on the line
The Dart train hit boulders on the line
Trains standing idle on the platform of Heuston Station during the last three-hour strike by train drivers at Iarnród Éireann

THIS morning's planned rail strike has been dramatically called off after marathon discussions between workers and Irish Rail management which lasted until the early hours of today.

After almost 18 hours of tense negotiations, trade unions Siptu and the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) confirmed shortly after 4am that they were instructing their members that today’s planned rush hour work stoppage was being called off.

Irish Rail has confirmed full rail services will operate around the country and a spokesperson for the company said they believe “the level of disruption will be of the most minimal nature”.

However, unions have warned there may be some delays as train drivers arrive to work.

Irish Rail also advised customers that their journey planner, realtime info on their website and app are currently not updating.

Customers have reacted to the news on social media, with many describing normally busy train stations as exceptionally quiet this morning.

One person wrote: "Only three people in Salthill and Monkstown. There's usually around 20. The DARTs will be empty.

"Pearse Station is empty too. A handful of people got off the train."

This decision to cancel today’s strike, which was due to go ahead between 6am and 9am, came from the workers representatives at the request of the negotiators in the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

The cancellation of the strike came as a surprise as the unions had warned in the early hours that the strike was likely to go ahead.

However, shortly after 4am they confirmed that two outstanding issues had officially been referred to the Labour Court “for a hearing at the earliest opportunity”.

Both unions said they were “angered” and “frustrated” with the outcome.

These “fundamental issues” relate specifically to the “working week” and “past productivity”, Dermot O’Leary from the NBRU said.

“At this stage our agenda items, and our agenda items only, would exclusively be referred to the Labour Court for decision.  And on that basis, in deference to the WRC, they have asked that procedurally we would call off our industrial action,” he said earlier this morning.

“The demands from the company in terms of marrying our agenda and their agenda were just not acceptable.”

He added later: “It is very disappointing that our original items got no traction, despite the minister himself indicating to me in correspondence, and publicly, that all issues should be fully explored through the industrial relations arena.”

He described the calling off of the strike at 4am as a 'logistical nightmare'.

The WRC have now spent a total of 12 days negotiating between the semi-state company and the two unions over the last couple of months. 

The unions are now hoping that the Labour Court hearing will happen within the next two weeks.

They have also indicated that further industrial action is not imminent.

“I wouldn’t anticipate that just yet,” Siptu’s Paul Cullen said.

“We are prepared to put a submission to the court on the basis of our agenda.  And I would await the submission before I make any decision on that.”

Speaking to RTE Radio One's Morning Ireland, Mr Cullen added: “I can say our representatives are very angry with the way the talks were conducted, they became very difficult late in the evening.

“Nevertheless, we persisted in trying to reach a resolution.

“I know it’s a late hour and the solution may not be satisfactory but nevertheless it tries to address our agenda in relation to the reduction of the working week.”

Mr Cullen claimed the reason the dispute wasn’t referred to the Labour Court at an earlier date was because Irish Rail ‘continued to pursue their agenda’.

“The company continued to pursue their agenda, ours was on the back burner for a long, long time.”

It had been believed that the proposed strike would have affected up to 60,000 passengers who were relying on up 159 services around the country on Dart, Commuter and Intercity lines.  And, there were fears it would possibly have cost the company up to €500,000.

Commuters who rely on the country’s rail network were already forced to make contingency plans after being hit by strike action in the capital and surrounding areas between 6am and 9am on October 24.

And, it had been feared that if last night’s talks had collapsed there would have been a third wave of industrial action across the country’s rail network in the coming weeks.

Ciaran Masterson, the Director of Human Resources with Irish Rail, said they were pleased that the trade unions had called off the work stoppage.

“Regrettably it is at a very late hour, however we are pleased to say we will be in a position to provide a service to most of our customers this morning,” Mr Masterson said.

“We have had a protracted set of negotiations and discussions, we have aired a lot of issues and we have heard and understood the positions expressed by the trade unions. 

“But we are pleased to say the key issues will now go to the Labour Court for recommendation with the possibility to bring the matter to an amicable conclusion to all parties.”

Irish Rail chief executive David Franks last week wrote to staff warning that their demands, about past productivity measures, have become “unaffordable”.

He said the two unions involved had created “false expectations”, following their decision to seek a reduced working week and changes to productivity.

Irish Rail believes their proposals for productivity will see earnings increase for some workers by up to 7.9pc, as well as the availability of a voluntary severance package.

However, unions are seeking for the working week to be reduced to bring it in line with their counterparts in other jurisdictions like Northern Ireland and the UK.

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