Threat of strike infecting the rail network prompted talks
Published 27/09/2016 | 02:30
Nobody's going to admit it, but it's no coincidence that talks to end the crippling Dublin Bus strikes were called as soon as there was a hint that they could infect the entire bus and rail network.
Last week, the seriousness of the dispute went up a notch when fears grew that industrial action could spread to other CIE companies. Dermot O'Leary of the NBRU warned that Irish Rail drivers will not tolerate the prospect of their bus colleagues being forced to stand on picket lines for an "inordinate" period of time.
There was speculation that passengers could face the immediate prospect of unofficial action, while the possibility of union-sanctioned action at sister CIE companies in other disputes grew.
Dublin Bus passengers had already suffered six strikes with no sign of drivers going back to the wheel. Unions and the semi-state company were entrenched in their positions and Minister Shane Ross and the Workplace Relations Commission were not going to intervene.
But as soon as it looked like Irish Rail workers might get involved, the Workplace Relations Commission stepped in and invited everyone to "exploratory" talks over the weekend. It's amazing what can happen when "minds are concentrated", to use the usual jargon that is used at moments like this.
The most immediate danger to passengers was the threat of unofficial action possibly in the form of wildcat strikes at Irish Rail and Bus Éireann.
Simultaneous official action in the other companies would take longer to play out - but could come down the tracks if the parties to the Dublin Bus dispute remained deadlocked.
To make matters worse, Siptu and the NBRU announced they were balloting for strike action after Bus Éireann announced a plan to restructure its loss-making Expressway service.
The plan to slice €7m from costs could mean job and pay cuts.
The problem of a €500m deficit in the CIE Group schemes is also waiting in the wings. This is the one issue with the potential to unite workers across the three companies in a single front. However, ballots would have to be held before industrial action became a reality.
While these scenarios were playing out in people's heads, the state's troubleshooting body stepped in to sort out the debacle on Sunday.
As if to add to the drama, talks were convened at 2pm, giving just a seven-hour window before services were due to wind down ahead of a seventh strike today.
Unions set the scene before they even went in. It did not take long for a consensus to be reached on the crucial question of deferring today and tomorrow's strikes.
The Workplace Relations Commission is not an organisation that likes to be associated with failure. Otherwise, it would be seen as bad at its job.
It is highly likely that it knew the answer to the question of whether unions would be prepared to call off industrial action before it posed it. Otherwise, it wouldn't have asked.