Tuesday 11 December 2018

Anne-Marie Walsh: Now rail strike looms as pay claims do the rounds again

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Stock picture

Anne-Marie Walsh

A sentence near the end of a page pinned to Irish Rail noticeboards since last week could really mess up the plans of those who depend on trains to get around.

It says that unions who are trying to get a pay rise of 3.75pc a year for their members will, as a matter of courtesy to the Labour Court and the travelling public, use the State's industrial relations bodies as much as possible to progress their pay claim. That sounds good. But there's a sting in the tail.

"However, if we find that Iarnród Éireann is not 'playing ball' then we will immediately seek a mandate for industrial action in order to force the company to 'do right by its own staff'."

What failing to play ball means is not defined - but presumably it means if what they are offered, after as many red-eye sessions as required at the Workplace Relations Commission, falls too far short of what they need to sell it to their members. And in order to sell it to their members, it must bear some resemblance to what has been achieved in the best deals won by transport workers in recent times - namely 3.75pc a year.

Many of us have been on the receiving end of that pay juggernaut, which began when the Luas drivers held a series of rolling strikes last year before it travelled through all the CIÉ companies one by one.

Dublin Bus workers got the same increase, but more recently the claim ground to a halt at Bus Éireann, but not without a bitter series of strikes that lasted for weeks.

In its latest summary of its woes, Irish Rail essentially claims it is the new Bus Éireann.

"In this regard, we have consistently contended that our financial position is worse than that of Bus Éireann," it said.

"This is evidenced by the level of accumulated losses in Iarnród Éireann of €159.2m against the €22.4m in Bus Éireann."

But the unions' notice suggests it is no Bus Éireann when it comes to industrial relations. It says the interaction between it and Irish Rail management has "deteriorated alarmingly" over recent years.

In a cutting jibe at CEO David Franks, who previously headed up Stockholm Metro, it says it is no coincidence that a change in 2013 of the "so-called leadership" has coincided with "strained relationships".

The notice later refers to Mr Franks's "North Korean style". It accuses the company of portraying the "poor mouth" by claiming it is underfunded by the Exchequer when a review with the National Transport Authority recommended it should get €125m over the next three years. It claims passenger and revenue numbers have exceeded Celtic Tiger levels.

The pay juggernaut is on the move again.

Irish Independent

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