Tuesday 25 September 2018

Rail strike coming down the track as union vows to help workers in 'fight'

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Anne-Marie Walsh

A strike at Irish Rail over workers' demands for the same pay rise as Luas and Dublin Bus workers is now likely to go ahead, a senior Siptu official has warned.

Speaking at the Siptu biennial conference in Co Cork, vice-president Gene Mealy said that the row was likely to end in industrial action.

He said the union would fully support rail workers in that "fight".

Mr Mealy said a chief aim of the union was to ensure public transport is funded appropriately while taking "strategic" industrial action "where necessary".

He said this was to ensure that transport workers are not used to subsidise public transport in Ireland. He claimed this had been attempted during a recent dispute at Bus Éireann.

The warning comes as unions are balloting their members on strike action. Industrial action could begin as early as the October Bank Holiday weekend.

The general secretary of the other main union at the commercial semi-state company, National Bus and Railworkers' Union chief Dermot O'Leary, has already warned that a strike will go ahead.

Talks on the pay claim broke down at the Workplace Relations Commission last week, when the company would not move above an offer of a 1.5pc increase, when unions wanted 3.75pc a year.

Sources said Irish Rail also pushed for agreement to the closure of four lines that receive the highest State subvention - Limerick to Ballybrophy, Ennis to Athenry, Gorey to Rosslare and Limerick Junction to Waterford.

Mr Mealy also warned Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that if he acted on his threat to restrict strikes in essential services, unions would "bite back".

He also told delegates that Brexit could cost 40,000 jobs over 10 years.

Meanwhile, the conference heard that housekeepers in hotels are being asked to make up to 20 beds a day.

Delegates revealed that some employers have adopted a 'speed up' policy that is causing repetitive strain and skeletal injuries. They said staff used to be required to make 12 beds a day, but face disciplinary action if they do not meet targets.

They claimed that employers were trying to claw back a recent hike in the minimum wage by making them work longer and faster.

Staff said in some cases workers were being asked to turn mattresses on their own and were carrying loads that were heavier than those that baggage handlers at airports had to deal with.

Incoming deputy general secretary Ethel Buckley said one woman suffered a "career ending" injury after being asked by management to get on a bunk bed to clean a hotel ceiling.

Eva Mitchell of the Hospitality and Financial Services Committee of Siptu said housekeepers were an "invisible workforce".

"This policy doesn't take into consideration how messy a room might be and there is no additional pay," she said. "There's about 100pc occupancy in hotels at the moment, so a lot more rooms need to be cleaned."

Other delegates urged employers to curb work during intense sunlight.

James Smith of Meath District Council said Irish Cancer Society figures show one in four cases of skin cancer related to outdoor staff, including those working in construction and agriculture.

Irish Independent

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