Wednesday 21 August 2019

Tensions escalate after Irish Rail chief's personal letter to workers on demands

Niall O'Connor

Tensions between Irish Rail and trade unions have escalated after company chief David Franks personally wrote to workers warning that demands being tabled by unions 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 last month's strike action resulted in losses and that the company was struggling financially. He said plans to introduce further work stoppages again on Friday, between 6am and 9am, 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 the Irish Independent.

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

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

In the letter, he says the company's proposals will see an increase in earnings of up to 7.9pc. Drivers will also be able to apply for 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."

NBRU general secretary Dermot O'Leary said Mr Franks' letter was 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," he said.

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe said he stood behind the proposal put to staff by Irish Rail management, saying it was "reasonable and sensible".

But he warned if further planned strike action goes ahead, "it is going to create even more damage to Irish Rail".

Irish Independent

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