Wednesday 24 October 2018

Rail strike possible as drivers reject Labour Court recommendations

Picketing Irish Rail workers outside of Connolly Station
Picketing Irish Rail workers outside of Connolly Station
Allison Bray

Allison Bray

Unions are not ruling out possible industrial action by Irish Rail drivers after members overwhelmingly rejected a Labour Court recommendation that would have given them a 1.15pc pay increase in exchange for concessions on productivity.

In a ballot counted this afternoon, drivers belonging to the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) and SIPTU voted 93pc and 83pc respectively in favour of rejecting the Labour Court recommendation last October.

While the drivers have not balloted for industrial action, SIPTU organiser Paul Cullen said both unions are not ruling it out in the future.

“If the company forces this issue, there is the likelihood of industrial action,” he told Independent.ie.

NBRU General Secretary Dermot O'Leary said the ball is now in management’s court to determine why the recommendation was rejected.

“Our members have rejected the recommendation which was designed to facilitate a move from the currently agreed voluntarist system of training new drivers, to one where it would become compulsory for all train drivers to mentor new colleagues,” he said in a statement this afternoon.

“The onus is now on both sides to reflect and consider the result of this ballot (93% against); any unilateral attempt by Irish Rail to force the issue may result in a negative reaction from those who have voted to reject the compulsory element of training.”

Drivers were offered the 1.15pc award on top of a 2.5pc annual pay increase over three years for all Irish Rail staff agreed to last month.

The award was designed to reflect “past productivity” but it also required drivers to engage in the mentoring of trainee drivers, which until now, was done voluntarily.

But SIPTU organiser Paul Cullen said some drivers are simply not interested in mentoring new drivers.

Although the Labour Court recommendation would give them a 35pc increase in the mentoring bonus – from €25 to €31 per shift – he said many drivers believe “it isn’t enough to cover that level of responsibility.”

“It’s forcing drivers who never wanted to be a mentor to do it,” he said.

Drivers are also unhappy with extra responsibilities they are expected to take on, he added.

They must now take on some of the duties of former station staff who are being phased out around the country, like ensuring that all passengers are safely on board before leaving the station, he said.

“There were no discussions on this,” he said.

Mr O’Leary said drivers are also angry about the so-called “Goodwill Voucher” of €500 that was part of the Labour Court recommendation. But instead of a voucher that can be used anywhere, the voucher is valid at Dunnes Stores, which some members are unhappy about, he said.

But Irish Rail spokesman Barry Kenny said the current row is delaying the company’s plans to introduce DART service every ten minutes and other improvements in service.

“With preliminary passenger numbers issued by the NTA (National Transport Authority) last week showing that we have now equalled our highest ever passenger numbers (45.5m in 2017, matching 2007 levels), this is restricting the company’s ability to meet the needs of our customers and the economy,” he said.

Mr Kenny was unavailable for further comment but he said the company would be “urgently considering” the outcome of the ballot.

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