Tuesday 17 July 2018

Irish Rail workers threaten industrial action if working hours are not cut

Trains (stock photo)
Trains (stock photo)

Annemarie Walsh

Unions at Irish Rail have threatened industrial action if the state-owned company refuses to cut their working week from up to 43 hours to 35.

The National Bus and Railworkers Union and SIPTU will seek a 35-hour week for the company’s 540 drivers at three days of talks that begin at the Workplace Relations Commission tomorrow.

Their demand follows an independent report commissioned by the Labour Court that recommended more detailed discussions after comparing their working conditions with their UK counterparts'.

The report was commissioned following a four hour stoppage last October and a last minute postponement of a further strike the following month.

It found that a 35 hour working week over four or five days is the norm in the UK, but Sunday work can be voluntary or obligatory.

The working week in Northern Ireland, it said, is 38.5 hours, but drivers have higher pay scales.

It said any new arrangement that might be agreed would have to take into account the totality of the drivers’ terms and conditions, as well as any extra costs or savings that would be made.

A reduction in Irish Rail drivers' working week to 35 hours would mean their pay would become fully pensionable.

Currently, just 39 hours of pay is counted towards their pension, but drivers work between 39 and 43.5 hours a week.

“The drivers are adamant that we’ve been discussing this for a long time and it’s coming to a crunch point,” said Assistant Organiser of SIPTU Utilities and Construction Division, Paul Cullen.

“We’ve had a report done and have to make sure there’s some progress in relation to that. If not, the threat of industrial action is always there.”

The unions said there had been long and protracted negotiations stretching back 10 years relating to improvements in the drivers’ terms and conditions.

They said it “unfortunately” took a strike last autumn to “bring a semblance of recognition” to their members’ concerns.

In a statement, General Secretary of the NBRU, Dermot O’Leary, and Paul Cullen said the independent assessors’ report has thrown up some challenges for drivers.

They said their members were prepared to embrace changes that may be necessary to effect “long overdue” improvements.

“It is imperative that the company will reciprocate by facilitating the reduction in the working week and agreeing to improve the terms and conditions of its driving resource,” they said.

“Failure to so do will inevitably result in our members having to resort to engaging in industrial action in order to realise such improvements.”

Irish Rail said the talks will concern driver issues, including the independent report on productivity and drivers’ working time and conditions.

“While the report concluded that much of what was claimed as past productivity either did not constitute productivity or had already been addressed by previous agreements, the Labour Court recommendation did provide for the outcomes to be reviewed at the Workplace Relations Commission,” said a spokesman.

“And the report itself recommends further study in some areas including comparative conditions.”

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