Irish Rail boss in Mauritius as strike goes ahead
Chief Executive David Franks holidaying on paradise island
The chief executive of Irish Rail will be holidaying in the paradise island of Mauritius when train workers walk off the job.
Tens of thousands of commuters face travel chaos on Sunday and Monday as a result of a pay dispute.
However, David Franks, who earns a salary of €211,000, is refusing to return home to deal with the first national strike in over 13 years, which will involve around 2,100 rail workers.
Union leaders and opposition TDs described his decision to take annual leave this week as "extraordinary" and warned that the absence of the rail chief at home could scupper any chance of striking a last- ditch compromise.
The Irish Independent has learned that the Irish Rail boss will not return from Mauritius until Monday.
Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe, who is himself on holidays in Kerry, refused to defend Mr Franks's absence, with his spokesperson saying he had "no comment".
Mr Donohoe has previously described the decision by workers to strike as a "slap in the face" of taxpayers.
Fianna Fail said Mr Donohoe's silence on the matter raised questions over whether he is "content" with Mr Franks's absence.
"The minister needs to clarify whether or not he is content with the CEO of Iarnrod Eireann remaining on holidays during such crucial phase of this dispute," said the party's Transport Spokesperson Timmy Dooley.
Up to 15,000 GAA fans planning to attend the All-Ireland senior football semi-final between Mayo and Kerry face disruption.
More stoppages are planned for September 7, the day of the All-Ireland hurling final, and on Monday, September 8. There will also be a stoppage on September 21 when the Gaelic football decider takes place.
The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) said Mr Franks's decision to go on holiday has angered frontline workers.
"It is extraordinary to think that the chief executive of a semi-state company involved in a major industrial dispute would be out in the Indian Ocean during a week like this," NBRU General Secretary Dermot O'Leary said.
"How are frontline workers expected to have confidence in this company when the CEO is halfway around the world as they face pay cuts?"
Trade union SIPTU, whose members will engage in a 'work to rule' on four of the five planned dates, described Mr Franks's decision to go on holiday as "quite odd".
SIPTU organiser Owen Reidy said that he is focussed on finding a solution aimed at averting the strike.
"It is, of course, quite odd that the captain of the team is away during the middle of the match," he said.
Irish Rail Head of Communications Barry Kenny last night defended Mr Franks's absence ahead of the looming strike.
"This was scheduled leave and he has been in contact every day and leading the management of this situation," he said.
Mr Kenny said that the company has "never had a CEO like him who communicates directly with staff".
"The CEO has taken 10 days' scheduled leave and will be back in the country on Monday."
The strike action is in response to temporary pay cuts for staff, which are due to come into place from Sunday.
The Labour Court recommended that the pay cuts should apply for 28 months.
Cuts between 1.7pc and 6.1pc have been accepted by the TSSA, TEEU and Unite trade unions but not by the NBRU and SIPTU.
Irish Rail says the cuts are necessary to slash €17m off its wages bill. The Government has warned that the strikes will affect the company's viability.