Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Irish rail workers to go on strike

Cross-border train passengers face potential disruption this weekend as Irish Rail have threatened to strike
Cross-border train passengers face potential disruption this weekend as Irish Rail have threatened to strike

Ireland's creaking railway system is edging closer to collapse as workers declared a four-day strike which will hit two of the country's biggest sporting events, transport chiefs have warned.

The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) will stage a two-day walkout beginning on August 24 as well as two 24-hour work stoppages on September 7 and September 21 in a row over pay cuts.

The last two days of action coincide with the Gaelic Athletic Association All-Ireland hurling and football finals in Dublin's 82,000 capacity Croke Park, traditionally the biggest dates on the annual sporting calender.

Separately Siptu, the largest trade union in Ireland, has announced a strike at Irish Rail on August 25, as well as further industrial action.

Dermot O'Leary, general secretary of the NBRU, said workers are unwilling to "subsidise their own jobs" at the struggling State rail company through management-ordered pay cuts.

"It has been clear for some time that there is a lack of trust and confidence in both the company and the Government with regard to their ability to commit to ensuring the future sustainability of rail transport," he said.

"The expectation that our members would effectively buy a pig in a poke is an option that has been firmly rejected."

Irish Rail is losing millions of euro every year after a recession-led plunge in revenues and subsidies were slashed, which had been keeping it on track.

Bosses have stressed the pay cuts - part of a multi-million euro cost-cutting survival strategy - have been described as unavoidable by the Labour Court if the operator is to remain in business.

Warning of potential bankruptcy, David Franks, Irish Rail's chief executive, said the strike action will disrupt services, worsen the company's financial situation and put every worker's employment at risk.

"Furthermore, our trade unions and their independent advisors have been given full access to our financial data, and accept that the company faces insolvency without urgent action to correct our finances," he said.

Mr Franks said Irish Rail cannot turn its fortunes around without cutting pay, which accounts for more than half of its spending.

"Any industrial action will hurt us all and hurt our customers, and create a wider financial gap which will then have to be addressed, and I urge all colleagues and the representative trade unions to reflect on this," he said in a letter to staff.

Senior management have taken a salary cut of 6.1%, according to Irish Rail.

They are asking workers to take cuts of between 1.7% for those earning 56,000 euro (£44,000) or less - three quarters of the workforce - up to just over 6% for employees on 100,000 euro (£79,000) or more.

Three other unions accepted the proposals, but they have been rejected by Siptu and the NBRU.

Irish Rail said the pay cuts will be introduced on August 24 and will apply for just over two years as part of a plan to save 17 million euro (£13.5 million).

Last year, the company recorded losses of 16.4 million euro (£13 million).

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