Sunday 17 December 2017

Fears grow for Luas service as drivers in new strike threat

Siptu is set to seek a mandate from workers for a ballot for indefinite strikes next week. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.
Siptu is set to seek a mandate from workers for a ballot for indefinite strikes next week. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

Anne-Marie Walsh and Paul Melia

Luas drivers are set to ramp up industrial action by announcing new strikes "before the week is out".

The fresh threat of industrial action comes as fears grow for the future of the tram service.

Siptu is set to seek a mandate from workers for a ballot for indefinite strikes next week.

Speculation is mounting that drivers could be put on protective notice while Transdev, which runs the service, faces the prospect of further financial penalties for failing to provide the service under its contract with the National Transport Authority.

"The possibility of a long term dispute seems likely," Director of Emplyer Relations at Ibec Maeve McElwee told RTE's Morning Ireland.

"We are getting into a very dangerous situation now, there is talk of an all out situation... and the potential for this is quite high.

"An escalation seems somewhat inevitable."

A 24-hour strike is already planned on St Patrick's Day, when the capital will be thronged with tourists, as well as a 48-hour work stoppage over the Easter weekend, during the centenary of the 1916 Rising.

"I'm surprised and disappointed over the action taking place on St Patrick's Day and over the Easter weekend," Ms McElwee said on the RTE radio show this morning.

"It is of little difference whether the strike takes place on these days or any other days. The impact on the contract is the same no matter what days the strike takes place on."

But despite the crisis facing Transdev, its boss Gerry Madden was upbeat last night that the dispute could be resolved.

This is despite the failure of last-ditch talks to end the row over pay rises earlier this week.

When asked how long the company could continue to operate without any state funding to run the service, he said there was no set number of days.

"Clearly, there's a fiscal impact," he told the Irish Independent.


"But there's a lot of time between now and then to find a resolution. This is one of the flagship contracts for us, and hopefully it will go beyond 2019 if we win next time around.

"We genuinely think we have two grades of staff out of four who will attend talks, and possibly a third group, and feel we are more likely to get a resolution here. We as a company need to find a way. It is a very unfortunate and complicated and protracted dispute, but Transdev is here to stay."

He refused to discuss whether there was a clause in the contract that gives the State powers to impose penalties aside from pulling its €100,000-a-day funding if the operator cannot run the service.

Multinational Transdev has already lost more than €400,000 during the four days of strikes that have taken place.

It also suffered losses to penalties when there were delays on the lines due to unofficial action, when it claimed drivers took an unprecedented number of toilet breaks.

"While every case has to be examined there is the reality the potential for conceding excessive claims [and this is an excessive claim] has a knock on impact on other employers in the country at the moment," Ms McElwee said this morning.

"This isn't a company that has suffered a pay freeze during the recession."

Siptu warned it did not need to hold a new ballot for fresh strikes so would announce stoppages to take place in April within days. "We will announce more strikes before the week is out," said union official Owen Reidy. "I think the dispute could threaten the future of the project of the Luas if it continues. If we keep having protracted stoppages and no talks to fix them, everybody suffers and that's regrettable."

He said the union followed the transport minister's advice, attended talks and suspended a strike yesterday, but the company would not talk to drivers.

Q & A Pay row: What do the workers want?

What do the Luas staff want?

Siptu lodged a claim for pay rises ranging from 8.5pc to 53.8pc for four groups of staff, when claims average between 1pc to 3pc in other sectors. They have also lodged claims for a range of improvements to their terms and conditions.

What does their employer say?

Transdev says it can’t afford the claims as it suffered losses of €700,000 last year. It will consider increases between 1pc and 3pc.

What is their pay?

Tram drivers start on €35,901 a year, and progress up a scale to €42,247 a year in year nine.

Is there any chance of the dispute being resolved?

It’s not looking good. Drivers are now threatening to ballot for an all-out strike after talks broke down on Monday night.

What talks are under way?

The Workplace Relations Commission stepped in, after a couple of false starts. There were high hopes on Monday that fresh discussions chaired by Kieran Mulvey could sort things out.

I thought the workers reduced their pay claim, so why is the row still going on?

Although the claim was lowered to a maximum of 35pc, Trandsdev said this was still too much.

What next?

Transdev will have to decide how long it can function if strikes continue, and the state will have to decide how long it will allow the public go without a service

Irish Independent

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