Wednesday 18 September 2019

Irish Rail will be 'weakened by €4.6m loss from strikes'

Football fans and festive shoppers will be hit as five days of industrial action set to cost millions

Industrial action: NRBU chief Dermot O’Leary
Industrial action: NRBU chief Dermot O’Leary
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Striking train workers will give soccer fans and Irish Rail a €1m slap in the face by forcing the closure of key routes ahead of Ireland's World Cup play-off with Denmark next month.

Industrial action is set to cost the national rail company €900,000 per day in lost revenues and fines when staff mount pickets. That figure will rise to €1m on the day of the crucial qualifier when extra services were planned for fans travelling from Cork, Limerick and Galway.

Officials at Irish Rail said the strike action would cost it more than €4.6m. This includes €600,000 per day in lost revenue for 'normal' passenger days and more than €300,000 in fines each day from the National Transport Authority.

However, the operator said the cancellation of extra trains and Irish Rail Darts to and from the Aviva Stadium would bring losses of more than €1m on November 14.

A spokesman for Irish Rail said the industrial action would have a significant impact on its financial security.

"There will be disruption to customers, and uncertainty over a prolonged period will lose us business," he said.

"Our precarious finances will be weakened further, in a situation where accumulated losses are €160m and the company is dangerously close to insolvency."

Five days of industrial action were announced by unions on Friday. They will also affect shoppers in the run-up to Christmas.

As well as November 14, a series of 24-hour rolling strikes will take place on November 1, 7 and 23. A fifth day of action is planned for Friday, December 8, the day that traditionally marks the start of the festive shopping season when those living outside Dublin historically travelled to the capital.

The industrial action will also impact on more than 150,000 daily commuters who rely upon Dart, Intercity and commuter trains.

The action was announced after the unions rejected the rail company's pay offer. Irish Rail officials said they offered rises of 1.75pc for one year. This was to be facilitated by measures including performance management, absenteeism management, revisions to redeployment policy and payroll. However, unions are seeking a 3.75pc increase.

The company said it had committed to discussing more substantive productivity issues to fund further improvements in earnings beyond the one-year agreement in a defined period and that it was not happy unions had decided to take industrial action.

"Iarnrod Eireann remains committed to this process, and to resolving this claim through dialogue, and through the industrial relations machinery of the state," a statement said.

Unions said responsibility for the strike action lay with Irish Rail CEO David Franks.

In a joint statement, the NBRU, Siptu, Unite, the TSSA and TEEU said they were unhappy with the breakdown of talks at the Workplace Relations Commission last week.

"The treatment meted out to staff over the last number of months, and in particular the debacle which occurred at the WRC last evening, has been nothing short of contemptuous and will make a resolution to this dispute even more difficult, if not now impossible," the statement said.

"The Trade Union Group will conduct reviews on an ongoing basis and may decide to escalate the action by way of increased frequency and duration."

NBRU general secretary Dermot O'Leary said the chosen dates were picked so commuters would have an opportunity to make alternative travel arrangements.

"There is never a good time to have a dispute," he said.

"We took note of the fact people would be planning or made plans for a weekend away. If they went away on the Friday they would have wanted to come back on the Monday so we made a decision to stay away from that weekend.

"The first strike day is 11 days after we announced our action. We could have served seven days notice, as per the law, and that would have seen us strike on the bank holiday weekend. We didn't do that."

Mr O'Leary also called on Transport Minister Shane Ross to intervene in the dispute. "What he needs to do is provide a space for Irish Rail to do justice to our members who have gone 10 years without a pay rise," he said.

Sunday Independent

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