Rail bosses to meet unions - 'but won't budge on pay cuts'
IRISH Rail bosses say they are willing to meet with trade unions - but will not discuss the pay issues that have sparked a hugely disruptive strike.
Strike action will affect more than 180,000 people tomorrow and Monday, including 21,000 fans travelling to the Kerry and Mayo All-Ireland football semi-final.
Further stoppages are likely to stretch into the coming weeks, hitting the back-to-school rush and commuters returning to work after the summer holidays.
Irish Rail will impose pay cuts ranging from 1.7pc to 6.1pc from tomorrow, prompting members of the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) and SIPTU to mount the first strike in 13 years.
The strike will cost the cash-strapped company €1.3m - €800,000 in lost passenger revenues and a €500,000 subsidy from the Government to provide services. This is the equivalent of two months' savings under the rejected pay deal.
Further stoppages are planned for Sunday and Monday, September 7 and 8, and Sunday September 21 - all dates of big GAA games at Croke Park and designed to cause considerable disruption.
A company spokeswoman said it was available for talks, but would not be swayed on pay cuts.
"We're open to engagement on any of the issues but we cannot move on the pay cuts. They will be, and have to be, implemented on Sunday," she said.
The first wave of strike action comes amid growing concern from trade unions that even if workers agree to the cuts, their futures are far from secure.
NBRU General Secretary Dermot O'Leary said it was available to meet, but only if there were no pre-conditions to talks.
"There's no argument that Irish Rail is in a financial crisis," he said. "The debate that should be had is that the funding levels provided by the Government have reduced. Our members are being asked to put their hands in their pockets to replace government funding on a wing and a prayer without any guarantees as to the future of the company."
SIPTU added that the company needed to "seriously address" its finances.
Hopes of a last-minute deal to avoid action were dashed after chairman of the Labour Relations Commission, Kieran Mulvey, said he saw "no basis" for talks.
Both the LRC and Labour Court had explored every available avenue over several months to find a way of avoiding industrial action, he said.
"We can see no basis for any intervention at this stage. We would need a request from the parties to this dispute to do that and we do not have any such request."
He added he was not hopeful that strike action could be avoided.
A spokesperson for Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe said he was committed to ensuring there would be no further cuts to the railway subsidy next year, but that the "modest wage cuts" were "unavoidable" to help secure the company's future.
Dublin City Centre Business Association said the strike was a toll on business in the capital,
The National Transport Authority said that private coach operators would provide extra services, but Bus Eireann and Dublin Bus ruled out additional buses, saying they did not have the capacity.