Saturday 24 August 2019

Unions 'sceptical' despite talks to avert rail strike

Negotiator Kieran Mulvey
Negotiator Kieran Mulvey
Jack Griffin’s wife Trisha

Niall O'Connor

Trade union leaders remain sceptical over the prospect of averting tomorrow's planned rail strike despite the decision to call fresh talks at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

The talks, scheduled to resume this morning, are aimed at resolving the ongoing row between Irish Rail and unions over working hours and productivity.

The Government asked the country's top troubleshooter Kieran Mulvey to intervene in the row yesterday in a bid to prevent some 40,000 commuters from being discommoded.

Workers are scheduled to down tools from between 6am and 9am in a move that will disrupt the travel plans of thousands of commuters.

A similar strike took place a fortnight ago and caused chaos during rush hour.

But there is concern within political circles about the strained relations between Irish Rail chief executive David Franks and union officials.

"We have a situation here where personalities are causing huge problems," one source told the Irish Independent.

Mr Franks, who earns a salary of €211,000, has been criticised after he sent a letter to workers this week warning that their demands are "unaffordable".

He 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.

In response, both unions claimed that a significant number of their members have handed back the letters, while many others refused to read the contents.

NBRU General Secretary Dermot O'Leary said workers are "very angry".

And SIPTU organiser Paul Cullen wrote to Mr Franks, describing the letter as "most unhelpful".

"It is a clear attempt to alienate negotiators and this trade union from its members," he said.

However, Irish Rail spokesman Barry Kenny claimed that the "vast majority" of workers accepted Mr Franks's letter.

During yesterday's negotiations, both sides set out their positions in separate rooms.

Irish Rail says it's proposals surrounding productivity 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 as part of its plans.

But unions want the working week of drivers reduced so as to bring it in line with their counterparts in other jurisdictions, such as Northern Ireland and the UK.

In recent days, all parties appeared to concede that the work stoppages would go ahead as planned. But the decision by Mr Mulvey to resume talks at the WRC today has raised some prospect of a deal.

Both the NBRU and SIPTU said last night that neither of their positions have changed and they are "no more optimistic" about striking a deal after over four hours of negotiations today. Irish Rail said it will go into this phase of the talks in a positive fashion.

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe welcomed the talks.

"There has been significant engagement in recent weeks, through the WRC, to resolve this issue and to have threatened strike action at Irish Rail called off. I welcome the fact that exploratory talks will take place this afternoon to see whether or not a basis for renewed talks can be found. I encourage all involved to treat the matter with the seriousness it deserves and to make every effort to bring this matter to a close," he added.

Irish Independent

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