Sunday 19 January 2020

Luas dispute more about ideology than economy

SIPTU leader Jack O'Connor Photo: Brian McDaid
SIPTU leader Jack O'Connor Photo: Brian McDaid

The extraordinary attack by Siptu president Jack O'Connor on disputes troubleshooter Kieran Mulvey was a pretty low blow.

The director general of the Workplace Relations Commission is a revered figure in the industrial relations landscape, due to his strong track record as an honest broker. Mr Mulvey has also served the trade union movement with some distinction over his long career.

Mr O'Connor's call for Mr Mulvey to resign was a kneejerk response without merit. However, the call did highlight how tensions have risen as a result of the ongoing Luas dispute.

Mr Mulvey's offence was to highlight how the deal agreed for Luas workers was, by the standards of any independent observer, reasonably generous and appeared to go towards meeting demands on the table. It is unclear why Siptu believe a better offer will come about through another round of mediation, after further disruption to services for the public.

The overwhelming rejection of this deal by Luas drivers begs questions about what this dispute is really about.

On Easter weekend, Siptu was quite satisfied to take the brickbats of hampering public transport for the commemorations of the 1916 Rising. The counter-argument was that James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army fought for workers' benefits and strike action is a right in any democracy.

Nonetheless, one wonders is this a dispute about pay or an ideological protest against the privatisation and outsourcing of services to companies like Transdev, which operates Luas?

It appears to be about far more than the pay, terms and conditions of the drivers of trams. The industrial relations climate in the public transport sector has had a long and colourful history. The rejection this week of changes to the frequency of the Dart timetable reiterated the slow pace of change in an area that is heavily subsidised by the taxpayer.

If Siptu's real objection though is dealing with a private company operating in this sector, then let them come out and say so rather than using the public as collateral damage.

Irish Independent

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