herald

Sunday 4 December 2016

Strike action is still looming down the track despite plea

NBRU chief Dermot O'Leary: dispute warning
NBRU chief Dermot O'Leary: dispute warning

Trade Union leaders are standing by their threat of strike action at Irish Rail - despite warnings that such a move would cause "great damage" to the future of the company.

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe has expressed deep concern about the potential strike action and urged both unions and management to address their dispute under the auspices of the LRC.

The Herald understands that the LRC has set a date for early September to allow talks between unions and management to take place.

But Mr Donohoe suggested that major investments at Irish Rail would be "jeopardised" if a fresh wave of strike action is launched. The Fine Gael politician issued that warning after announcing a €14m project to renovate a tunnel under the Phoenix Park from Heuston Station.

Damage

"As a result of all of this, and as a result of the additional demand for public transport, we now estimate that at the end of this year an additional one million passengers will have used Irish Rail services - and I think it would do great damage to all concerned if that kind of progress was to be disrupted by additional industrial action," Mr Donohoe said.

"I therefore urge everybody who is involved in these negotiations at the moment, whether they be management or unions, to make full use of the LRC to ensure these discussions can be concluded in a way that does not disrupt the progress Irish Rail is now making," he added.

As revealed by the Herald this week, train drivers are becoming increasingly angry about pay and conditions.

Morale among workers at the semi-state company has also plummeted as a result of a series of safety concerns.

The fresh tensions between workers and management have emerged almost a year after a nationwide strike by rail workers caused disruption for tens of thousands of passengers.

But plans by workers to strike on the days of the All-Ireland finals last September were abandoned following an intervention by the Labour Relations Commission (LRC). A last-minute deal between unions and management involved the freezing of controversial cost-saving measures while further discussions took place.

But union figures say these discussions have proven "unsatisfactory" and are considering balloting members next month about the prospect of strike action. While the company has not been formally notified of strike action, it's understood that a balloting process is likely to go ahead in September.

Chaos

Sources have said that any such strike action could be targeted at early-morning Dart services, in a move that would cause chaos for commuters and schoolchildren. Asked whether he accepted the legitimacy of the workers' concerns, Mr Donohoe said these issues should be discussed at the LRC.

"That's why the LRC's work is so important. They offer the space and professionalism in which differing views can be heard and in which resolution and agreement can be founded," the Dublin Central TD said.

Last night, both SIPTU and the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) said the threat of strike action remained in place.

NBRU General Secretary Dermot O'Leary said any failure by the company to properly engage on issues such as productivity will "precipitate a dispute". SIPTU organiser Paul Cullen told the Herald the anger among workers is serious, saying: "From our perspective, the situation remains the same - and the prospect of industrial action at the company remains under consideration."

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