Sunday 25 February 2018

New Transport Minister won't be deal maker in this dispute

Transport Minister Shane Ross (Picture: Tom Burke)
Transport Minister Shane Ross (Picture: Tom Burke)

Anne-Marie Walsh

The Luas dispute is likely to go to the wire before there is any real breakthrough. Something has got to give in this row that has been going on since February, but it may not give for weeks yet.

The tram line's drivers are probably the most unpopular workers in the country. Their initial demand for a 54pc pay rise and the fact that they can hold commuters from Tallaght to the city centre effectively to ransom means they are being sent up on the net on a daily basis.

Their wages are being compared with junior doctors and spoof videos have been created about how to train as a Luas driver that suggest it entails little more than shoving a lever backwards and forwards.

But they appear to have no intention of backing down and intend to get every last cent out of Transdev. They have remained united through 10 days of strikes and ignored appeals to back down on a work stoppage during the 1916 commemorations. Yesterday they announced new dates for June that will coincide with the start of the Leaving Cert and a Bruce Springsteen concert.

To be fair, they have significantly reduced their starting demand, and are now seeking a 23pc pay increase within three years. Transdev has also moved from zero, to 3pc to 18pc, and down to 13pc. Unfortunately for passengers, there is still a big gap between what they want and what the tram company says it can afford.

The public's patience is wearing very thin and the fact that they are being deliberately targeted on busy days while the drivers are easing the pressure on their own pockets will not make them any more popular.

The pace at which a resolution is found will depend largely on Transdev. It has issued a number of threats and is already cutting drivers' pay by 10pc. But it could cut their wages even deeper or take them off the payroll. The issue could reach a climax around the next pay day on May 26.

There was some glimmer of hope that another hero or villain would arrive on the scene in the shape of the new Transport Minister Shane Ross. A bete noire of the unions, Mr Ross has never been one to mince his words.

But the minister has confirmed he will remain out of this row.

Although he expressed disappointment about further strikes, it appears as if Mr Ross will tow the same line as his predecessor Paschal Donohoe, who repeated the mantra that his hands are tied.

Irish Independent

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