Talks to avoid Luas strike on St Patrick's Day
Mediator to chair negotiations between Siptu and Transdev
A Luas strike that could cause travel chaos on St Patrick's Day may be averted as talks to end a row over pay will begin on Wednesday.
The State's top mediator has invited Siptu and the tram network's operator, Transdev, to discussions in a bid to end the dispute.
Two 48-hour strikes have already taken place and a further two are planned for next month unless a deal is brokered.
The director-general of the Workplace Relations Commission, Kieran Mulvey, said one of the first issues that would be addressed at the negotiations was the ongoing industrial action.
This includes a work-to-rule that is set to escalate into two 24-hour strikes on March 8 and St Patrick's Day.
Siptu is likely to be asked to defer any industrial action while talks are under way.
"What's the value of inflicting further pain on workers and commuters when negotiations are taking place to resolve the dispute and which would make a settlement more difficult?" asked Mr Mulvey.
Luas staff have already lost four days' wages and a bonus of up to €3,000 in the dispute over wage demands of between 8.5pc and 53.8pc and the demand for better working conditions.
Transdev has said it is willing to discuss pay increases of between 1pc and 3pc.
The first 48-hour strike took place last week and another, which began on Thursday, ended last night.But Mr Mulvey warned that the commission was not willing to listen to the same arguments that both sides had been making for weeks.
"We're contacting both parties to invite them in separately for discussions with us," he said. "On the basis of what we hear, we will decide if formal conciliation talks will take place or not.
"We are not prepared to sit down and listen to the same mantra from both sides. This is too serious for the reiteration of positions."
The invitation to talks came as pressure mounted on Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe to work behind the scenes to stop the industrial action as he faces the wrath of commuters on the doorstep during the election campaign.
Mr Donohoe claimed that it would be inappropriate for him to become personally involved.
He said this was because the State played a role in the tendering process that led to the awarding of the Luas contract.
Pressed on whether he or Taoiseach Enda Kenny should be doing more, the minister said Mr Mulvey had backed up his stance.
"We have a contract in place between a company and a state agency," he said.
"That contract has to been honoured and any intervention at this stage has to respect the fact that a contract is in place and the place in which these discussions must take place is inside the institutions that have been set up by our country to deal with these matters."
Siptu and Transdev accepted the invitation to talks.
"We've been saying for weeks that we're happy to talk to the company in any forum," said union official Owen Reidy.
"Our position is that we won't be suspending action until there is a deal but it's incumbent on everybody to try and resolve this to avoid any more action."
Transdev managing director Gerry Madden said the company had wanted a "sensible conversation" for weeks and had signposted that pay-rise norms in this country were "between 1pc and 3pc".