Wednesday 21 August 2019

Longer rail strikes are on the cards in run-up to Christmas

Siptu hints that dispute may spread to drivers at Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann

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Stock picture

Breda Heffernan and Ralph Riegel

Commuters are facing further misery with striking train drivers warning that longer periods of strike action will be introduced in the run-up to Christmas.

One of the rail unions has also hinted that the pay dispute could spill over into Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann.

A further three days of strikes are already planned - the next on November 14 - with no indication of the two sides coming together for talks to avert them.

Siptu has said there is a "very real possibility" that more strike days could now be added in December and these would likely be of a "greater duration" than yesterday's 24-hour strike. It will make a decision at a meeting reviewing its industrial relations campaign in early December.

Siptu's division organiser Greg Ennis has also raised the possibility that bus drivers may take some action in support of their rail colleagues.

Speaking to the Irish Independent from the picket line in Drogheda, he said: "A lot of bus drivers between Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann are concerned at the intransigence of the minister and the Department of Transport and how they're dealing with their brothers and sisters in this dispute.

"As of now, this is purely a dispute between Irish Rail workers and their employer but there is growing concern."

Earlier this year during the lengthy strike by Bus Éireann drivers, some train drivers who worked out of combined bus and rail depots refused to pass the picket line.

However, general secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union Dermot O'Leary insisted bus drivers in his union would not be taking part in any industrial action in support of their train driver colleagues.

"Let me be very, very strong in stating categorically, in no circumstances will I be supporting anyone who decides to do that. It's totally unnecessary. This is a pay claim after all and we see a resolution at some stage. But this is exclusive to Irish Rail," he said.

"The intention of Bus Éireann was to attack people's wages. This is a pay claim so in no circumstances will we have a situation where rail workers (picket bus depots). I haven't had any conversation with (bus) drivers in that direction."

Yesterday's strike, the second in a planned series of five, affected 70,000 Dart passengers, 45,000 Commuter passengers and another 40,000 InterCity passengers.

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There were also knock-on delays for bus passengers as those who would normally commute by rail turned to Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann.

The AA also reported "horrendous" congestion on roads into Dublin city, particularly on the N11 from Wicklow. In Cork, worst hit were the Mallow and Midleton roads into Cork city.

Irish Rail estimated yesterday's strike cost it €900,000 - €600,000 in lost fares and another €300,000 in penalties from the National Transport Authority for failing to meet its Public Service Obligations.

Spokesman Barry Kenny said the company "remained available" for talks. "We've said we'll go to the WRC or the Labour Court. The unions have said they are not willing. It can only be progressed or resolved if all the parties are there," he said.

However, Mr Ennis said the way the last round of talks broke down, makes it "much more difficult to return".

Transport Minister Shane Ross was, meanwhile, accused of "tweeting about Manchester United" and "contemplating publicly a fantasy trip to North Korea" while the chaos continued.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said Mr Ross had promised a national transport forum in the summer - but nothing had been done.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted the rail strike would be resolved by the State's industrial relations machinery. But he said pay disputes in the CIÉ group always appeared "to require a few days of strike" before they could be fixed.

Irish Independent

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