No barrier means no jobs for 120 toll-bridge staff
OVER 100 workers working at the M50 West-Link toll bridge will lose their jobs when the barrier-free system comes into operation on Saturday, it emerged last night.
The 120 staff say they have reluctantly accepted a compensation package from parent company National Toll Roads (NTR) who will close the toll plaza on Saturday.
The workers say they were told all along that jobs would be available at the call centre of the National Roads Authority's (NRA) tolling site, eflow.ie. But the organisation has opted to locate the centre in Newry, Co Down, instead.
Shop steward David Sharp told the Irish Independent last night that staff had reluctantly agreed to take the compensation after two years of negotiations.
"There were no jobs available, so we had no choice really but to accept the package," he said. "We were told at first that there could be jobs in some of NTR's other companies, like Greenstar, then we were told that there would be jobs with eflow, but neither of these things materialised.
"We really are annoyed about the way some of the staff have been treated. Most people in here have given over a decade of service to the company.
"When 30 jobs go in west Cork it's all over the news, but nobody seems to care too much about 120 toll-bridge workers."
Mr Sharp admitted that the compensation package was "decent" but stressed that it was no substitute for a job.
"The package we got was decent, 10 weeks' pay for every year we worked, plus some shares too, but next week we will be joining the dole queues."
General Manager of Westlink Bridge Ltd Gareth Brown said the company had not sprung the decision on its staff.
"This has been on the cards for a while so it's not a case of inviting the staff in one morning and telling them their jobs are gone," he said. "The workers have to get on with it, they've known about it for over a year."
Mr Brown said that all of the staff had eventually accepted the compensation package.
"There was an initial sense that if new tolling companies were taking over and we had 120 tolling staff being let go, then it made perfect sense for the staff to go there, but, unfortunately, that never materialised because Eflow located their call centre in Newry instead," he added.
The plans for barrier-free tolling were drawn up after the Government purchased the toll bridge from NTR last year for €600m. It was built at a cost of €39m and opened to traffic in March 1990.
The toll-bridge agreement was then signed between the Dublin County Council and West-Link Toll Bridge Ltd, which provided that after 27,000 cars had passed through the tolls, the Government received a share of the revenue.
Average daily traffic levels grew from 11,500 vehicles in 1991, to more than 15,000 in 1993, to 45,500 in 1997, 67,000 in 2000 and to in excess of 78,000 in 2003. It currently stands at 100,000.
Between 1990 and 2004, almost €310m was collected in tolls. The State received €65m.
A spokesman for NTR said: "While the company regrets the redundancies, circumstances made them unavoidable.
"The company kept employees fully informed from the time the Government purchased the toll bridge.
"Negotiations with employees have been constructive and positive from the outset and employees were provided with a redundancy package that would be associated with many years of loyal service, including assistance in finding future employment, pension planning and personal planning."