Thursday 29 September 2016

Out-of-kilter pay demands will not sit well with passengers

Published 18/02/2016 | 02:30

'A key part of SIPTU’s claim is that passenger numbers and revenues are increasing, and so workers should benefit'. Photo: PA
'A key part of SIPTU’s claim is that passenger numbers and revenues are increasing, and so workers should benefit'. Photo: PA

Luas drivers do a good job in very difficult circumstances. The system has an excellent safety record, and the biggest threat to the well-being of passengers is, as the Railway Safety Commission points out, motorists ignoring traffic signals and causing collisions.

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But notwithstanding the difficulty of the job, it's hard to see any kind of justification for the pay hikes currently being demanded.

When Luas first started operating in 2004, SIPTU and management had a salary agreement, which meant drivers were among the best-paid in Europe.

Figures from other public transport operators, both at home and abroad, suggest their pay is not out of line with the average, and if anything is slightly above.

But that's not for a moment to suggest they are over-compensated. As the February edition of the SIPTU newsletter 'Liberty' points out, drivers and staff work anti-social hours, they must retain focus as they negotiate city streets containing road traffic and pedestrians, and are subject to abuse and anti-social behaviour.

But punishing the travelling public for the failure of management and their union to address this pay claim is not the answer. Neither management nor the union comes out of this well. The row has dragged on for 18 months, and it beggars belief that both sides have so far failed to reach a compromise.

A key part of SIPTU's claim is that passenger numbers and revenues are increasing, and so workers should benefit.

On that matter, it's worth exploring the contract between Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) and Transdev to operate the system, which came into force in late 2014.

Transdev will be paid €150m over five years. This equates to around €100,000 for each working day. While fare revenue stands at around €150,000 per day, it is held by the National Transport Authority, and used to fund ongoing improvements to the system, such as the Luas Cross-City line.

There are no bonus payments to Transdev for carrying additional passengers. That means that, regardless of whether 90 or 90,000 commuters use the line every day, Transdev is still paid the same amount. It makes no difference to its financial position if more passengers travel.

TII cannot row in and throw a few quid in the direction of workers either. This is because a number of companies bid for the operating contract, and if the State suddenly provides additional funding to Transdev to settle the pay claim, the whole basis of how the contract was awarded changes.

If this were to occur, it would inevitably result in legal action from one of the companies which failed to secure the lucrative tender.

Transdev is a huge company, operating 22 light rail systems internationally and generating revenues of €6.6bn in 2014.

But it says it is making a loss in Ireland, and that the pay claim would cost €6m a year.

SIPTU says the claim is an opening position, and it does not expect to achieve a 54pc hike. So why lodge it?

It also insists that pay is out of kilter with the market rate. But there is only one tram system in the country, so what is it comparing pay scales to?

Health insurance, free GP care for drivers, and an increase in the maximum bonus from 6.5pc to 10pc of salary are among the contract improvements being sought by staff.

There are few, if any, workers, across any sector of the economy, who enjoy similar perks. So why should Luas staff be any different?

Luas staff have already paid dearly for the strike action to date, as they will not be paid their annual bonus. This will cost drivers as much as €3,000.

But the question must be asked if they are being well-served by their union?

It should never have reached the point where workers are losing their bonus payment because their representatives and management cannot agree some kind of pay deal, despite 18 months of trying.

Irish Independent

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