Sunday 23 October 2016

'Useful' talks held but still no end in sight for bitter Luas dispute

Published 24/02/2016 | 19:16

Luas workers have threatened to withdraw services every two weeks until a dispute over pay and conditions is settled. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Luas workers have threatened to withdraw services every two weeks until a dispute over pay and conditions is settled. Photo: Caroline Quinn

LUAS drivers will learn within the next 48 hours whether they will be heading back to the negotiating table to end a bitter dispute with management that has lead to four days of strikes in a fortnight and could further derail tram service on March 8 and St Patrick's Day.

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Following separate meetings with both the trade union SIPTU and LUAS operator Transdev at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) today, WRC Director General Kieran Mulvey said he will get back to both sides by the weekend to determine whether there is room for negotiation.

However, speaking to after the three-hour talks with SIPTU this evening, Mr Mulvey said "we had a useful engagement with both sides today. There are a number of issues that have arisen in the meetings with both sides which we need to clarify tomorrow," he said.

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"And on the basis of what we may hear from both parties, then we'll be in a position perhaps tomorrow evening or Friday to make a decision around whether or not a substantive intervention by the commission at this stage would serve a useful purpose."

SIPTU representative Owen Reidy also described the talks as a "useful engagement" but he vowed the strikes will still go ahead unless an agreement is reached.

"If they (WRC) believe there is scope for talks, that's a positive thing," he said.

But he wouldn't comment on management's call for what it termed a 'reasonable' pay claim.

Talks began at the WRC this morning in a bid to see whether there is scope for further negotiations to end the bitter dispute.

They follow two highly disruptive 48-hour strikes that brought services on both the red and green lines to a halt last week and at the beginning of February. The last time both sides spoke was in January.

On the way into the exploratory talks this morning, Transdev Managing Director Gerry Madden said the ball is now in SIPTU's court to come up with what he called a "reasonable claim" to kickstart negotiations.

"So if SIPTU come here this afternoon and say 'we've reasonably modified our claim by 50, by 70 by even 80 pc' that would still take them way beyond industry norms," he said.

"I don't want to second guess what they're doing. I hope they're using this time this morning to come here with a sensible, reasonable  opportunity and claim we can talk about. But if they come in this place that is way beyond industry norms we are still back to where we were at the beginning and we can't expect a third party to just magic something out of the air. We need something reasonable to work with."

He said the company would consider a pay rise in the range of between 1 and 3pc with productivity enhancements as a "reasonable starting point."

Without an agreement, the highly disruptive industrial action that has hit up to 90,000 commuters a day will escalate to another strike on March 8, followed by a further 24-hour stoppage on St Patrick's Day.

Staff have demanded pay rises ranging from 8.5pc to 53.8pc and big improvements in working conditions, including free GP care and better-paid overtime.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe has insisted that the talks take place on a "reasonable" basis, otherwise "continuation of these strikes will wreck the Luas."

"It will cause huge damage to our city, the commuters and to the Luas itself and it is in everybody's interest now that discussions begin this week'" he told reporters earlier this week.

The minister noted that staff had already sacrificed a bonus payment worth up to €3,000 each because they went on strike.

He said that both sides in the dispute must have "realistic expectations"

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