Thursday 23 November 2017

Strike threat after Irish Rail brands pay demand 'reckless'

Russian roulette’: NBRU’s Dermot O’Leary. Photo: Andy Jay
Russian roulette’: NBRU’s Dermot O’Leary. Photo: Andy Jay

Anne-Marie Walsh

Irish Rail passengers face the threat of widespread travel chaos during the summer and autumn after the company warned it could not afford pay rises.

Members of the National Bus and Railworkers' Union (NBRU) may take industrial action after Irish Rail said it would be "trading recklessly" if it accepted union claims for wage hikes of 3.75pc a year up to 2020.

Irish Rail has predicted it will end up just €2m short of insolvency this year and although it has "turned a corner" in terms of the revenue it is bringing in, it is still suffering losses each year.

It said its financial position was worse than Bus Éireann's and it would lose €6m this year and had suffered total losses of €159m since 2008, in a submission to the Labour Court.

The unions' submission to the court said they wanted 3.75pc a year up to 2020, with all increases to be pensionable, plus a "lead-in" payment to recognise staff's contribution during previous cost-cutting measures, plus a 6.5pc bonus.

General secretary of the NBRU Dermot O'Leary accused Irish Rail and the Government of playing Russian roulette with public transport.

He said they were running the risk of widespread travel chaos during the summer and autumn. Mr O'Leary said successive governments had cut state funding by over 39pc since 2008.

He said passenger numbers were back at Celtic Tiger levels, there had been significant increases in revenue, €25m payroll cuts and a 19pc cut in staffing.

The union leader said this was in direct contradiction with the company's "so-called" insolvency threat to workers seeking a pay rise.

Siptu divisional organiser Greg Ennis said Irish Rail's claims were not surprising but his members' pay claim must be met.

"Siptu has consistently advised of its concern with regard to the underfunding of the public transport system in Ireland and while recent pronouncements by Irish Rail are not surprising, workers within the company who have not had a pay increase in almost 10 years can no longer be subsidising the same," he said.

Recession

Meanwhile, all public servants bar the highest paid are set to have pay cuts imposed during the recession unwound,under proposals tabled at talks on a new public sector pay deal last night.

Government officials proposed that those earning up to €65k should be taken out of Fempi by 2021 and those earning more than that by 2023. Sources revealed that government officials and unions are discussing a three-year deal with pay rises that are likely to be front-loaded, although potentially less than 1pc would be paid due to a tight fiscal space next year.

The government has said the top limit on its spending is €200m next year but there are demands on this other than wage increases. A new deal will push up the Exchequer pay bill that currently stands at €16.4bn, over €1bn less than it was in 2009 when it reached a peak of €17.5bn.

Proposals being discussed would also mean that state workers would have to pay more on a permanent basis towards their pensions.

Bernard Harbor of the main public sector union Impact said he believes agreement can be reached at the talks although some union sources were far more pessimistic.

When asked if a deal could be struck in the next 48 hours, Mr Harbor said: "We really need to see what money is available for any deal before I can really answer that question."

General secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation Liam Doran said the Government would have to find extra cash to fund pay increases for nurses because of recruitment and retention problems."The Government is going to have to use a wider lens and more imagination," he said.

Irish Independent

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