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Tensions between Irish Rail and unions escalate as company chief labels demands 'unaffordable'

TENSIONS between Irish Rail and trade unions have escalated today after company chief David Franks personally wrote to workers warning that demands being tabled on their behalf are “unaffordable”.

Mr Franks accused the National Bus and Railway Union (NBRU) and SIPTU of creating “false expectations” following the decision to seek a reduced working week and changes to productivity.

The Irish Rail boss, who earns an annual salary of €211,000, said that strike action two weeks ago resulted in losses and that the company is already struggling financially.

He said that plans to introduce work stoppages again on Friday should be avoided.

“The demands for an even greater share of the productivity savings and a reduction in the working week as tabled by the trade unions are unaffordable,” Mr Franks wrote in the letter, a copy of which has been seen by independent.ie.

“This is not a negotiating tactic. It is a fact, as we continue to lose over €1.5 million monthly, and with accumulated debts of over €130 million. We do not think it is appropriate to create false expectations and have been consistently clear that we must generate verifiable cost savings to fun any improvement in earnings,” he added.

Mr Franks’s decision to write to staff just days before the planned action and his criticism of the union position has renewed tensions.

In the letter, which was given to staff as they left depots today, Mr Franks said he is “disappointed” proposals discussed at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) were not put to drivers in the form of a ballot.

In the letter, Mr Franks says that it's proposals will see an increase in earnings of up to 7.9pc.

There will also be an opportunity for drivers to avail of a voluntary severance package.

A spokesman for Irish Rail added:

"As for NBRU objections to us communicating to our employees, it may be that this intemperate outburst reflects pressure on the NBRU from within to explain why the proposals which we had offered, which would have led to an increase in driver earnings of up to 7.9pc. through productivity proposals, were not allowed to be put to drivers by the NBRU and SIPTU negotiating teams."

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But speaking today, NBRU General Secretary Dermot O’Leary said Mr Franks’s letter is an attempt to “undermine” the unions involved.

"Writing directly to staff in this fashion, designed as it is, to undermine the Trade Unions, who are after all directly representing their members is counter - productive and will not get us one jot closer to a resolution of this dispute,” Mr O’Leary said.

“Our members are furious at this intervention and see it as an insult to a workforce that have fully cooperated in improving the Rail Network in this Country over the last decade, the only reasonable way of getting a resolution here is for all stakeholders to fully engage on all of the issues, attempting to disenfranchise workers representatives is bringing a distasteful element to this dispute,” he added.

Separately, Mr O’Leary today wrote to Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe as the threat of strike action looms.

He told the minister that he is concerned drivers are being “held to ridicule because of an inability to find industrial relation remedies to issues”.

Mr O’Leary added that there is, from his perspective, “room for manoeuvre” in a bid to strike a resolution.

But he said he is concerned that Mr Donohoe has been poorly briefed on the matters at hand.

“To listen to some of the invective being fired in the direction of Train Drivers you would think that the financial bar was being raised so high as to make a solution unattainable, this is, simply put, not the case at all,” Mr O’Leary wrote.

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