Tuesday 20 August 2019

Empty trains depart as rail row heads for Labour Court

Newbridge Station lies virtually empty after a last-minute decision to call off strike action was too late for many commuters
Newbridge Station lies virtually empty after a last-minute decision to call off strike action was too late for many commuters

Emma Jane Hade and Sam Griffin

Rail services were virtually empty across the country as a last-minute decision by unions representing train drivers to cancel a three-hour strike failed to avert commuter chaos.

Marathon talks at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) between Irish Rail management and unions Siptu and the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) concluded just two hours before the stoppage was due to take affect at 6am yesterday morning.

It meant tens of thousands of passengers had already made alternative arrangements and so the eleventh-hour breakthrough - which means the sides will now argue their case in the Labour Court in the coming weeks - was of no benefit to commuters.

Irish Rail believes it lost in the region of €100,000 in revenue because of the disruption.

One of its flagship services from Cork to Dublin left the station with just 10 passengers on board the 417-capacity carriages. Overall the company said passenger numbers were down by 50pc.

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe said the action was called off too late and so passengers "were the real losers".

He also warned unions that any deal struck in the Labour Court must be affordable for Irish Rail in order to deliver crucial services.

He said the semi-state company is currently running at a loss of approximately €1m per month, and he emphasised that any deal agreed in the industrial relations arena must be financially viable.

"Commuters are the people who depend on the services of Irish Rail, on the service of the CIE group and as the Minister for Transport, their needs in the future are crucially important to me," he said.

He believes that an agreement will be reached but said the affordability must be a priority.

"The deal that had been on the table and was on part of the last round of engagement within the WRC, the deal that was available then, was one that was reasonable from Irish Rail management," he added.

Unions said they were "angered" and "frustrated" by the outcome and they have now been referred to the Labour Court in relation to the two "fundamental issues" of the "working week" and "past productivity".

This is the second time in just two weeks that rail passengers were left stranded at rush-hour as Siptu and NBRU members also downed tools on October 23. The three parties had been involved in discussions in the WRC for a total of 12 days in recent months.

There had been fears of third wave of industrial action across the country's rail network.

However unions have ruled that out for the time being pending the discussions at the Labour Court.

"At this stage our agenda items, and our agenda items only, would exclusively be referred to the Labour Court for decision. And on that basis, in deference to the WRC, they have asked that procedurally we would call off our industrial action," Dermot O'Leary from the NBRU said.

"The demands from the company in terms of marrying our agenda and their agenda were just not acceptable.

"It is very disappointing that our original items got no traction, despite the minister himself indicating to me in correspondence, and publicly, that all issues should be fully explored through the industrial relations arena."

Siptu's Paul Cullen claimed the reason the dispute wasn't referred to the Labour Court at an earlier date was because Irish Rail "continued to pursue their agenda".

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News