Saturday 3 December 2016

Price of peace estimated at €4m as today's Luas strike called off

Anne-Marie Walsh and Allison Bray

Published 17/03/2016 | 02:30

Transdev managing director Gerry Madden speaks to the media outside the Workplace Relations Commission after talks with Siptu. Photo: Leah Farrell
Transdev managing director Gerry Madden speaks to the media outside the Workplace Relations Commission after talks with Siptu. Photo: Leah Farrell

The price of peace in the Luas dispute is an estimated €4m after a deal was brokered to ensure there was no strike during today's St Patrick's Day celebrations.

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But the trade-off is that the tram workers will have to meet the cost of pay rises of up to 18pc over almost three years by more flexible work practices, including a crackdown on fare dodgers.

The fact that the pay increases will not be retrospective and that many other demands have been shelved, will also dramatically reduce the cost of the pay package.

The deal was hammered out following almost 27 hours of talks chaired by mediator Kieran Mulvey at the Workplace Relations Commission.

The initial pay claim lodged with Transdev for increases up to 53.8pc was set to cost €30m.

The company, which does not have the power to increase fares, has argued it cannot afford the increases after losing €700,000 last year.

But sources at talks to broker the deal revealed it reached agreement with Siptu that the pay increases, above 1pc per year, be funded through changes to work practices.

Despite the deal, there is no certainty that strikes will not take place over the Easter weekend or four days next month, as workers still have to ballot on the proposals next week. Voting takes place on Wednesday and Thursday.

Siptu said its acceptance is uncertain, but the increases ranging from 8pc to 18pc over 33 months are likely to be attractive to drivers.

It has agreed to further productivity changes in principle, but the finer details still have to be worked out.

A crackdown on fare evaders by ticket inspectors and longer working hours for drivers to make savings on rosters for the new Luas extension are part of the deal negotiated.

The package was hammered out during a marathon bargaining session that ended yesterday.

Shortly before 1pm, Siptu and Transdev announced the threatened strike action that would have ground the tram services to a halt had been averted.

Control room staff have still not reached agreement, after demanding that pay rises should be frontloaded. However, this will not affect services running today as sources said other members of staff have been drafted in to carry out these functions.

It is understood that drivers will get a pay rise of between 8.2pc and 18.3pc over 33 months, or up to 6pc a year, depending on their position on the pay scale.

Ticket inspectors and their supervisors have reached agreement on pay increases up to 14.9pc over 33 months.

"We're in a better place than we were 48 hours ago," said Siptu official Willie Noone. "Whether it's good enough is the question. That will be down to the membership to decide. But in fairness, the Workplace Relations Commission did progress things a lot in the 27 hours we were in there."

He said the pay increases being sought may seem high in the current economic climate.

"From the beginning there were huge expectations there," he said. "It was unique because there was such a high vote for strike action. The fact is our members believe they have been underpaid for a long period of time and are trying to recoup some of that now."

Sources said Transdev's threat of a special bus service to ferry tourists into the city "concentrated minds" to try to broker a deal.

The National Bus and Railworkers' Union branded the move as "strike-breaking" and "scab labour".

Transdev cancelled the bus service to allow progress at talks to end the dispute.

Asked whether Transdev can afford the wage concessions, Transdev CEO Gerry Madden said: "We were always saying that when we got people into a reasonable space to consider and give us reasonable pay claims, we'd always do the right thing, whether we were making money or not.

"We're true to our word, subject to ratification by Siptu, then we'll be true to our word and we'll deliver a good pay reward for them." Asked the same question, Mr Mulvey said: "In these circumstances, there is a mix usually of productivity and the new pay rounds and straight forward pay increases so I think in the rounds they'll be worked out between the management and the union and the company in terms of whatever resources it has available. We didn't get into the finer detail of the funding, we just ensured that whatever proposals the Commission was putting forward were supported by management and through the process of negotiation have got a positive reception from the unions here this morning."

Irish Independent

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