More travel chaos for commuters as rail strikes on cards
Commuters face the prospect of widespread travel chaos as train drivers consider launching a second wave of strike action at Irish Rail, the Irish Independent has learned.
Trade union figures have warned the semi-state company that an ongoing dispute over pay and conditions may result in a series of work stoppages in the autumn, affecting both Dart and other train services.
A "deep sense of malaise" among train drivers in response to pay cuts, as well as demands for increased productivity, are among the factors underpinning the latest dispute.
Also, a significant increase in violent and drunken incidents on board trains and in stations has contributed to a fall in morale among staff.
The prospect of industrial action by workers was communicated to Irish Rail chief executive David Franks last week by the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU).
NBRU general secretary Dermot O'Leary said the frustrations among train drivers had reached "fever pitch".
"The fact that train drivers are annoyed and angry should not come as a surprise to the company, we have been communicating this message for some time now," Mr O'Leary told the Irish Independent.
He said: "The fact is that the train-driving role has become more onerous and more responsible over the last decade. I met recently with the CEO of Irish Rail to tell him that to ignore drivers issues would be doing a disservice to both the travelling public and staff alike."
SIPTU organiser Paul Cullen said he "couldn't rule out any form of industrial action" in the future.
"There is a huge level of frustration building up. Drivers feel they have fallen considerably behind from a pay perspective against other grades," Mr Cullen added.
Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe did not wish to comment on the prospect of further strike action.
The fresh tensions between workers and Irish Rail management have emerged almost a year after a nationwide strike by rail workers caused disruption for tens of thousands of passengers.
Plans by workers to engage in further strikes on the days of the All Ireland football and hurling finals last year were ultimately abandoned following an intervention by the Labour Relations Commission (LRC).
That decision came after a last-minute deal struck between unions and management involved the freezing of controversial cost-saving measures while further discussions took place at the LRC.
But it is now being claimed that dissent is growing among drivers.
Mr O'Leary said that while industrial action would be pursed as a "last resort", it was an approach that is being considered.
"Having travelled around the country over the last number of weeks, it is quite clear to me that train drivers' frustrations have reached fever pitch as they look at colleagues in Northern Ireland and those in the UK enjoying superior conditions for doing the same job.
"Engaging in industrial action is a last resort, but one which drivers are prepared to undertake if their issues continue to be ignored," he said.
It is understood that the work stoppages proposed to drivers will be targeted at early-morning Dart and train services. Such a move would cause chaos for commuters travelling to work, as well as schoolchildren.
Irish Rail last night said the company had not been formally notified of strike action or a balloting process. Spokesman Barry Kenny said it was committed to introducing savings in the area of productivity.
"We are in an ongoing process under the normal auspices of the Labour Relations Commission to discuss productivity with all grades of employees, including drivers. In our cost-containment agreement of last September, we committed to examining further productivity savings with our employees.
"We have made proposals to our trade unions in that regard, who in turn have given us feedback and other proposals.
"A full meeting under the auspices of the LRC is planned to progress this," Mr Kenny said.