Thursday 23 February 2017

The disruption was seriously inconvenient - but strikers may have done workers a favour

Anne-Marie Walsh

Published 04/06/2016 | 02:30

Kieran Mulvey, chairman of the Workplace Relations Commission Picture: Tom Burke
Kieran Mulvey, chairman of the Workplace Relations Commission Picture: Tom Burke

Workers who have been complaining about the Luas drivers may now find that the strikers have done them a favour.

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Those who travel the red and green lines were seriously inconvenienced during 12 days of strikes since February, as attempts to end the row moved at a snail's pace. But the wage increase the drivers have won will raise the bar for all workers seeking a pay hike.

Their 18pc pay boost by 2020 equals a pay rise of up to 4pc a year. This is roughly double the average that workers have been getting.

Like them or loathe them, the drivers have no doubt won a better deal than they would have done without their disruptive campaign of industrial action.

The fact they held up Dublin with an initial gambit for a 53pc pay rise over three years made them arguably one of the most unpopular groups of workers in the country.

Their claim was even described in union circles as "lunacy".

Questions were raised about the skills they needed to earn up to €42,000 a year. They probably won't be smoking Cuban cigars and drinking brandy on this pay rise, but it will bring their pay near €50,000.

And it's a no-brainer that the deal will have a knock-on effect. And the message won't be lost. This has been one of the most high-profile disputes of recent times.

The growing pressure on wages is already hard to miss. In the public sector, unions are demanding an acceleration of the Lansdowne Road deal. The NBRU has been first off the mark in seeking similar hikes for bus and rail drivers. Some see the widespread rejection of Fine Gael's tax promises in the election as an indication that workers are more interested in gross wage hikes.

ICTU has said private sector unions should seek pay rises of up to 5pc this year, but employer groups predict increases of just 2pc and are warning against the vicious cycle of the bad old days when pay chased property prices.

There has been a lot of suspicions of the Luas drivers' motives. But as shop steward Joe Carrick declared: "We're not only fighting for ourselves, but we're fighting for all working class people in Ireland."

They steered a course sometimes against the advice of their union and it is questionable whether the past few months of strikes were really necessary.

Comments made by the head of the Workplace Relations Commission, Kieran Mulvey at a low-point in the dispute now seem prophetic. "I am of the opinion both parties must surely recognise that any outcome will not be a million miles away from these proposals, and ask the question: does further disruption of service assist the reaching of such an agreement?"

Irish Independent

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