Saturday 24 March 2018

Rail boss relents and cuts sun holiday short ahead of strike chaos

David Franks
David Franks

Niall O'Connor

Embattled Irish Rail chief executive David Franks is to cut short his holiday in Mauritius after coming under strong criticism from union leaders and opposition TDs.

The company said Mr Franks will return to work earlier than planned to prepare for the first all-out rail strike in over 13 years.

The National Bus and Railworkers Union (NBRU) expressed shock this week after it was revealed that Mr Franks, who earns €211,000 per year, went on holiday to the Indian Ocean island just days before the rail network is brought to a halt.

Despite insisting that the company boss was managing the situation from Mauritius, an Irish Rail spokesperson last night confirmed that the holiday is being cut short.

"With NBRU and SIPTU intent on progressing with this industrial action - despite the effect on our customers, on the company's finances, and on the security of employment of the workforce - Mr Franks has brought his travel arrangements home to Ireland forward, and will travel on Saturday to continue to lead the management of the situation from head office from Sunday morning," the spokesperson said.

The decision by Mr Franks to return home this weekend was welcomed last night by Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe.

But Mr Donohoe, who is himself holidaying in Kerry this week, further antagonised union leaders after he accused workers of taking action that "puts jobs at risk" at Irish Rail.

"The action being taken by SIPTU and NBRU members will result in massive disruption on a number of fronts: it will cause considerable inconvenience to rail users, it puts jobs at risk at Irish Rail, and it will add to the further deterioration of the company's financial situation," the minister said.

"I am appealing to the unions involved to call off the actions proposed, even at this late stage, in the interest of the future viability of Irish Rail," he added.

But both unions at the centre of the dispute are refusing to budge on the industrial action, scheduled to begin on Sunday.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, NBRU General Secretary Dermot O'Leary accused the minister of continuously criticising workers at the semi-state company.

"The minister would be better minded to concentrate on the issues at play here - the fact that pay cuts are coming in on Sunday - instead of focussing on the workers."

SIPTU organiser Owen Reidy said the company needs to find other ways of saving money rather than slashing pay.

"Workers in our union are very frustrated at what's going on. The only way the dispute will be called off is if Irish Rail confirm they won't cut pay on Sunday. There has been nothing from the company to suggest they will consider doing that," he said.

Without a last minute intervention, the first all-out rail strike since 2001 will begin this weekend, causing major disruption for up to 15,000 GAA fans planning to attend the All Ireland senior football 
semi-final between Mayo and Kerry.

The 48-hour stoppage on Sunday and Monday will be followed by a stoppage on September 7 - the day of the All Ireland hurling final - and another on Monday September 8, which will hit commuters travelling to work.

There will also be a stoppage on September 21 when the Gaelic football decider takes place.

Over 2,100 rail workers are involved in the strike action, which is in response to temporary pay cuts for staff due to come into place from Sunday.

Cuts between 1.7pc and 6.1pc have been accepted by the TSSA, TEEU and Unite trade unions. However, the measures were rejected by both the NBRU and SIPTU.

Irish Independent

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