'High degree of frustration' for commuters as threat of railway strike looms
'We've all been left with this big uncertainty around our daily travel in the coming weeks'
Anxious rail commuters should not be subjected to new fears of a train strike next month, said Rail Users Ireland last night.
"We've all been left with this big uncertainty around our daily travel in the coming weeks," said Mark Gleeson, spokesman for the commuters' representative group.
Travel chaos looms for 140,000 rail passengers following the breakdown of pay talks between unions and management on Wednesday night.
Unions warned rail services could be hit by strikes as early as the October bank holiday weekend.
"Rail users are extremely frustrated. We have been subsidising Irish Rail with fare hikes of 5pc to 10pc a year.
"This threat of strikes is causing a high degree of frustration," said Mr Gleeson.
"The angry and militant attitude of the unions is not helping. There's a lot of trepidation among commuters now. We would encourage all sides to immediately resume talks," he said.
Mr Gleeson said the company should do more to seek increased State funding for improvements in services.
Unions are seeking a 'no-strings attached' 3.75pc pay increase.
The company has offered a 1.5pc pay increase in return for productivity, including redeployments of staff and outsourcing.
The unions have demanded the Government restore funding levels to the company which were greatly reduced in the economic crash.
Greg Ennis, Siptu union division organiser, said Irish Rail has been underfunded by the Government for years and workers "can give no more" to the company.
Dermot O'Leary, general secretary of the National Bus and Railworkers' Union, said a strike could take place by the October bank holiday.
"The anger is palpable among union members. Balloting for strike action will be under way by next week and will be completed within three weeks," said Mr O'Leary.
Following the breakdown of pay talks, industrial relations will be more difficult, he said.
A spokesman for Irish Rail said the company participated positively at the pay talks and proposed opportunities to give employees an increase of 4.5pc over three years.
The company's financial position "remains extremely challenging, with insolvency looming if further losses occur," he said.
There were at least two weeks left for talks within the time scale requested by the Labour Court, so it was "inexplicable" that the unions would "rush to ballot and to disrupt services to customers", he said.
Also, the company representatives in the talks had withdrawn any proposal to freeze pay increments, he said.
"There remains an opportunity to reach agreement which can yield improved earnings through generating efficiencies, by all parties working towards a sustainable future for Iarnród Éireann, for the good of customers and employees, and the company are ready to re-engage at any time.
"Many of the measures which could yield early increases such as payroll systems, performance management and absenteeism management, are efficiencies which would not impact on day-to-day work and roles but would yield improvements in earnings for employees," said the company spokesman.