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Saturday 21 July 2018

Rail union chiefs target Christmas for more strikes in pay-rise battle

  • Staff to go on strike in the weekends leading up to Christmas
  • Thousands of people travelling for the holidays will be affected
  • Irish Rail workers demand pay rise
(L to R) Siptu transport division organiser Greg Ennis, NBRU general secretary Dermot O'Leary & TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortez with a letter to the National public transport provider calling for a credible pay proposal to end industrial action. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
(L to R) Siptu transport division organiser Greg Ennis, NBRU general secretary Dermot O'Leary & TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortez with a letter to the National public transport provider calling for a credible pay proposal to end industrial action. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Anne-Marie Walsh and Kevin Doyle

Two 48-hour rail strikes in the weekends before Christmas are coming down the tracks, unless staff get the same pay rise as Luas and bus drivers.

Sources revealed that peak travel dates of December 16 and 17 and December 23 and 24 will be targeted. It will affect thousands of shoppers and people travelling for the holidays.

Union chiefs threatened to ramp up the industrial action during the festive season and warned it could spill into the New Year. Yesterday marked the first of five 24-hour strikes which have already been announced for the coming weeks.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made a stinging criticism of the industrial action, and said workers will end up with a deal that "will probably be no different than if there'd been no strike at all".

"I think it's unfortunate that in the transport sector it seems it's impossible to come to an agreement without a few days of strike," he said.

He also revealed that his promise to restrict strikes in essential services could become party policy ahead of the next election. The Taoiseach's comments, made while on a trade mission to the US west coast, are likely to be met with fury from the unions who have described the 1.7pc pay rise on the table as "miserly".

An empty Hueston Station, Dublin during a 24 hour strike by Iarnród Éireann staff. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
An empty Hueston Station, Dublin during a 24 hour strike by Iarnród Éireann staff. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Business groups warned that retailers would lose €150,000 a day over Christmas and accused unions of a cynical and deliberate ploy to target festive shoppers.

But some said they would be far more worried about a bus strike during the busiest dates on the retail calendar than they were about a stoppage in the rail network.

They said Black Friday would be a far busier shopping day than December 8, when one of the strikes already announced is scheduled.

Up to 155,000 people, including 70,000 who use the Dart, 45,000 on commuter services, and 40,000 who travel on Intercity routes, were hit during yesterday's stoppage.

But the impact was lessened because of the mid-term break, as parents took time off work with schools shut.

Staff will mount another four 24-hour strikes next Tuesday, November 14, and on November 23 and December 8, in pursuit of a 3.75pc a year pay increase.

The general secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union, Dermot O'Leary, warned that the strikes could continue into the New Year.

He said a 1.7pc pay rise would not resolve the dispute and staff wanted a credible, no-strings-attached pay rise.

"If it takes five [strike] days and indeed more to prosecute and effect that, we will do that and unfortunately that would drag into Christmas and the New Year," he said.

Siptu divisional organiser Greg Ennis also said the industrial action could escalate in the run-up to Christmas unless there is a better pay offer.

But ISME chief executive Neil McDonnell said it was very cynical to be attacking events like the World Cup qualifier on November 14 and the traditional Christmas shopping day on December 8.

"This is just cut and paste stuff from the NBRU," he said. "We've heard it before in the bus strike and the Luas strike. This is really hurting retail jobs and employers right at the time when they would be expecting their best time of year. December 8 has become a quasi-national holiday. It is being quite deliberately targeted in this way."

However, the chief executive of business group Dublin Town, Richard Guiney, said just 2.5pc to 3pc of those who come to the city to shop or socialise travel by rail. He said this compares with 37pc who use the bus, 15pc who use the Luas, and the rest who walk, drive or cycle.

"You're probably looking at lost business of about €150,000 a day," he said. "And that's if no one came into town. Chances are many will through alternative modes of transport."

Meanwhile, Mr Ennis accused Transport Minister Shane Ross of sitting on his hands for five months by failing to set up a forum to discuss the future of public transport which he had promised. He said he was "absent without leave".

In a letter submitted to the CIÉ board, the union group asked it to advise Irish Rail to "do the right thing" and make a credible pay proposal to prevent further industrial unrest.

It claimed there had been a "servile approach" by Irish Rail towards paymasters at the Department of Transport. They said the department must release its foot "from the throat of Iarnród Éireann".

Irish Independent

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