Tuesday 23 October 2018

Rail strike after mid-term break to cause 'maximum' chaos

A striking rail worker at Heuston Station on Wednesday. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
A striking rail worker at Heuston Station on Wednesday. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Anne-Marie Walsh

Commuters can expect travel chaos on Tuesday as passenger numbers will be "up to the max" during a second rail strike.

An Irish Rail spokesman said the 24-hour strike next week will coincide with its busiest time of the year as parents and students get back to work after the mid-term break. This is likely to put extra pressure, especially at peak hours, on the over-strained bus network and will push up the number of cars on the road.

The company has already begun putting up notices in stations to let customers know there will be no services on November 7.

Sources revealed there is little chance of the strike being called off. But they said there may be a push before the Ireland versus Denmark World Cup play-off at the Aviva stadium the following week when the Labour Court may intervene.

Unions have warned that the industrial action could escalate in the run-up to Christmas and into the New Year and it is understood that 48-hour stoppages are planned during the last weekends of December. As well as next week's strike, three further 24-hour stoppages are set to take place on November 14, November 23 and December 8.

Irish Rail spokesman Barry Kenny said the mid-term break had a "suppressing effect" during the first 24-hour strike last Wednesday. "Next week, services will be up to the max," he said.

Mid-November is the busiest time of the year for normal commuters. College students are going home every weekend on Intercity services.

"While revenue would have been moderately suppressed on a mid-term week by about 5pc, next Tuesday's stoppage - and subsequent planned industrial action - will be hitting the busiest time of the year for commuting and overall business on the network, and a full €900,000 a day impact would be expected. We would urge our trade unions, rather than threatening customers with further disruption and employees with lost income in the run-up to Christmas, to engage constructively to end this counterproductive action and take the opportunity engagement at the Labour Court provides.

"This would be in line with the Labour Court request that we return to the court if issues could not be resolved at the Workplace Relations Commission."

Siptu organiser Paul Cullen said members were preparing for the next strike and there was little chance it would be called off. "It will be slightly different next week," he said. "Obviously this week the schools were off. The impact will be significant, as the schools are back and people will be back to work after the mid-term break."

He said there had been some negative reaction from the public on the picket lines, but most were positive.

"It is inconveniencing people but they understand where we're coming from in relation to having a fair pay increase," he said.

He accepted that the 3.75pc that the 3,800 staff were looking for was double the norm across the private sector, but argued it was the industry norm.

"Remember that most of our colleagues in the Luas and Dublin Bus got 3.75pc and we are not looking for anything less than what our colleagues have already received," he said.

Meanwhile, Irish Rail said that its revenue over Christmas would usually be down about a quarter during the Christmas and New Year period. Mr Kenny said that there was a slight increase in revenue of about 3pc to 5pc on the traditional pre-Christmas shopping day on December 8, but that this was purely on Intercity services.

He said Dart and commuter business falls away in the week up to Christmas Eve.

The Intercity service has peaks and troughs but December 22 and 23 are the busiest days. Irish Rail losses are forecast to be in the region of €1m this year before the impact of the strikes is taken into account, on top of €160m accumulated losses.

"If our shareholder funds were to fall further by single digits of millions, our board has stated that we would be facing insolvency, so the financial situation remains critical," said Mr Kenny.

Irish Independent

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