Sunday 18 August 2019

Bus strike 'could be next' as Irish Rail action gets underway, affecting 155,000 commuters

  • Bus strike could be next as 155,000 hit by rail stoppage
  • More claims for pay rises will be in the pipeline soon
  • 70,000 Dart users, 45,000 users of commuter services, and 40,000 Intercity customers affected
Irish Rail Workers picketing at Connolly Station today
Irish Rail Workers picketing at Connolly Station today
Pressure: Transport union boss Dermot O’Leary. Picture: Collins

Anne-Marie Walsh, Ryan Nugent and Kathy Armstrong

An unending cycle of transport strikes is on the horizon, as 155,000 people will be hit by the first of five 24-hour stoppages at Irish Rail today.

Today's rail strike will affect 70,000 Dart users, 45,000 users of commuter services, and 40,000 Intercity customers.

The Irish Rail strikes will cost the company €900,000 per day, while workers will lose an average €1,200, although they will get a small payment in the form of strike pay.

Union boss Dermot O'Leary said it was unsustainable that the CIÉ contracts restrict the level of profits that can be made and left no room to address pay.

"The NBRU is of the view that there is a requirement for all parties to come together and create an environment to periodically - perhaps in advance of the contract being awarded - discuss pay.

"Such a scenario would obviate the necessity to regularly engage in disruptive industrial action across the various modes of transport," he added.

Greg Ennis, SIPTU, Dermot O'Leary, NBRU and Manuel Cortez, TSSA,pictured at Heuston Station
Greg Ennis, SIPTU, Dermot O'Leary, NBRU and Manuel Cortez, TSSA,pictured at Heuston Station
Dermot O'Leary, NBRU and Greg Ennis, SIPTU pictured at The Irish Rail Workers Picket at Heuston Station
Empty Platforms at Heuston Station during the Irish Rail workers' strike
Picketing Irish Rail workers outside of Connolly Station
Connolly Station this morning
Irish Rail Workers picketing at Connolly Station today
Irish Rail Workers picketing at Connolly Station today
A normally bustling Connolly Station was empty this morning during the strike

Union leaders have threatened to ramp up a strike at Irish Rail over Christmas.

They also accused Transport Minister Shane Ross of being "absent without leave" at a picket at Heuston Station this morning.

General Secretary of the National Bus and Railworkers Union, Dermot O'Leary, warned that the strikes could continue into the New Year.

He said a "miserly" 1.7pc pay rise will not resolve the dispute and staff want a "credible, no strings attached pay rise".

"If it takes five days and indeed more to prosecute and effect that we will do that and unfortunately that would drag into Christmas and the New Year," he said.

Siptu Divisional Organiser, Greg Ennis, accused Transport Minister Shane Ross of sitting on his hands for five months by failing to set up a forum to discuss the future of public transport that he had promised.

A normally bustling Connolly Station was empty this morning during the strike
A normally bustling Connolly Station was empty this morning during the strike

Train driver James Daly claimed that Irish Rail staff have been left with no other choice but to strike.

Speaking on morning Ireland on RTE Radio One, he said: "Unfortunately, it is what we have to do to get people to listen, it has been ten years since we got a pay rise or any change in our wages and we're just looking for fairness and transparency."

Mr Daly said that workers are willing to lose out on an average of €1200 to stand their ground.

He explained: "It is a lot of money but these are the sacrifices you have to take if you want to take a stance and try to fight for workers' rights."

Siptu representative Damien Lynch said that despite the chaos for commuters, he feels people support the strikers.

He said: "We can't do anything about the disruptions really, I have been talking to a few people and they have sympathy with us.

"I think the general public have sympathy for us...

Picketing Irish Rail workers outside of Connolly Station
Picketing Irish Rail workers outside of Connolly Station

"Since 2008 we haven't got a pay rise and we are only looking for what's due, the cost of living has gone up already.

"It's about time they (Irish Rail) give us what we are due already."

While most of the public were aware of the rail strike, some turned up at Connolly Station only to be told by security no trains were running.

Sako Camara (25) from Phibsboro, was travelling to Maynooth for work and tried Drumcondra Station before realising it was closed, then further down to Connolly.

“The gate at Drumcondra was closed, so I said I’ll try Connolly Station,” he said.

“Now I’m probably going to be late for work.

“The bus is the only option now,” he added.

Bus drivers nationwide have noticed an increase in passenger numbers this morning.

Pat Lenehan, of Bernard Kavanagh bus services, said he had about 10 more passengers than usual on his coach from Arklow to the capital this morning.

Though he told that many may have taken the day off work instead of taking the bus.

AA Roadwatch has warned they are expecting a "significant increase" in traffic during the work stoppage.

A spokesman said in a statement: "With over 150,000 journeys effectively being cancelled on each strike day, we anticipate a significant increase in traffic on the major commuter routes and in the major cities.

Irish Rail Workers picketing at Connolly Station today
Irish Rail Workers picketing at Connolly Station today

"Keep up-to-date on any delays by checking our website, app, Twitter and radio reports."

71David Franks1 Chi.jpg
David Franks, Chief Executive, Irish Rail, pictured at Connelly Station

Chief executive David Franks wrote to staff yesterday urging them to reconsider the "regrettable and avoidable disruption to services".

But Unite regional officer Willie Quigley warned that the dispute may escalate further in the absence of meaningful engagement by management.

However, some sources predicted that the industrial action may be halted ahead of the third strike day, which is due to take place when Ireland take on Denmark for a World Cup play-off at Lansdowne Road.

They predicted that the Labour Court will issue an invitation to talks before the dispute reaches that stage.

If staff got the pay rise they want, the average wage at Irish Rail would rise by more than €6,000 to almost €61,000.

Their pay rises in yearly increments until they reach the top of the pay scale.

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association said that a "strong coordinated response" is required to get an improved pay offer from the company after nine years with no pay rises, a greater workload and cost-cutting measures.

"If we are to send a strong message that we are serious about getting a just and fair settlement, then it is now through standing shoulder to shoulder with your colleagues on the picket lines," said a message to members.

It said that talks to end the row had been heading towards finalising a document to be put to members when the proposed deal was "pulled at the behest of your CEO", David Franks.

Transport Minister Shane Ross has urged all sides in the dispute to work to hammer out a deal to avoid further disruption.

Minister Ross said: "I sincerely call on the parties to the Iarnród Éireann pay dispute to continue to use the services of the Labour Court and the WRC.

"It is important for the travelling public – and also for the staff and for the company itself – that public transport continues, and that the dispute is resolved in a realistic, fair and sustainable manner."

The Labour Party's Transport Spokesman, Senator Kevin Humphreys, urged Minister Ross to "take some responsible" to try to help solve the dispute.

He said: "It’s clear we have a complete breakdown in trust between both sides in this dispute.

"Management needs to enter negotiations with no pre-conditions and a view to resolving this dispute to avoid any further disruption to the travelling public.

"No one wants to see strike action, least of all the hard working staff on the picket line.

"Unfortunately the breakdown in talks last month has caused a huge inconvenience the thousands of passengers who rely on Irish Rail services, and every effort must be made in the coming days to find a resolution.

"Minister Ross must take some responsibility for his lack of leadership in delaying to appoint a Chairperson to the Board."

He added: "We urgently need to get both sides back to the talks table without preconditions, and I again call on the Minister for Transport to facilitate this dialogue.

"With Christmas just around the corner the travelling public needs to be assured there will be no further disruption to this vital public service."

Irish Rail is automatically cancelling bookings seven days before the date of travel. Those with monthly and annual tickets can also apply for refunds.

The commercial semi-state company said it is dangerously close to insolvency and its precarious finances will be weakened further by the industrial action.

More claims for pay rises will be in the pipeline soon, which are likely to cause further chaos after rail passengers suffer the consequences of the latest wage demand in the run-up to Christmas. Unions are shortly set to lodge a fresh pay claim at Dublin Bus, as the final increase in a three-year deal is paid in January.

That wage claim will come around the same time as a pay review is due at Bus Éireann, agreed following three weeks of strikes last April.

Passengers have endured crippling strikes at all of the CIÉ companies since Luas drivers won a 3.75pc-a-year increase last year, and other transport staff demanded the same.

O'Leary said unions will put in a new pay demand at Dublin Bus next summer.

PL31482081CC BUS EIREANN D (Read-Only).jpg
Pressure: Transport union boss Dermot O’Leary. Picture: Collins

A three-year agreement was reached at Dublin Bus last year following six days of strikes.

But the deal, put forward by the Workplace Relations Commission last September, was back-dated, which means it only stretches to January.

"There will be an unending cycle of strikes unless each of the three companies came forward separately and gave us what we want, and that's not going to happen," said Mr O'Leary.

"Until such time as the National Transport Authority, the department, unions and company sit around the table and factor in how they are going to deal with pay, we're going to have these disputes on a cyclical basis," he said.

"Disputes at the three companies could collide."

Q&A: What's going on at Irish Rail?

What's happening?

Five 24-hour strikes are due to take place between today and December 8 across all services. This includes Dart, Intercity and commuter services.

When is it happening?

Trains will not be running today, or next Tuesday, or Tuesday November 14 (which is Ireland’s World Cup playoff at Lansdowne Road), Thursday November 23, and Friday December 8.

How will it affect me?

If you are booked to travel by rail on one of these dates you will have to make other arrangements.

Will I get my money back?

Yes. Irish Rail is automatically refunding customers seven days before their date of travel.

Why is this happening?

Unions want the same pay rise for their members as staff at Luas and Dublin Bus got.

This is worth 3.75pc a year for three years.

The company says funding this would bring it to the brink of insolvency.

It has, however, offered 1.75pc a year, but there are strings attached, including performance management changes.

What kind of financial shape is Irish Rail in?

Irish Rail is expected to carry more than 45 million passengers this year, close to its highest ever number.

However, it has accumulated losses of €159m since 2007, and a review by the National Transport Authority said that the company needs an extra €103m a year for the next five years.

How long is industrial action going to go on?

Nobody knows, but hopefully not too long beyond the first work stoppage.

It is normal for staff to have at least one ‘day out’ to vent their frustration.

Of course if they feel they are being ignored, they could mount an indefinite strike, but there is a narrower gap between the parties than in disputes at the Luas and Bus Éireann.

Like most disputes, the Workplace Relations Commission, or Labour Court, is likely to eventually step in.

But it won’t do so until it feels it will be successful in resolving it.

At the moment, both sides are sticking rigidly to their positions.

But there is only so long that staff can afford to lose pay by going on strike and the company can continue to lose business.

What about Transport Minister Shane Ross? Can’t he stop it?

Shane Ross has insisted he will not intervene in industrial relations disputes.

However, it is not unusual for ministers to work behind the scenes to “bang heads together”, as it is often referred to, in order to reach a resolution.

Irish Independent

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