Train services in Athlone and around the country came to a standstill on Wednesday this week as Irish Rail workers commenced the first of five planned strike days.
In the region of 155,000 commuters around the country were forced to make alternative arrangements on the day, and with further strike days scheduled for November 7, 14 and 23, and for December 8, there appears little sign that the dispute is close to a compromise.
Irish Rail workers are looking for a 3.75 per cent yearly wage increase. However, Irish Rail says this is not possible. Pointing to more than €160m in accumulative losses, the company says bowing to the demands of the workers would cost as much as €43m in the next three years, something it says would push the company into insolvency.
Speaking on the morning of the strike, SIPTU representative Frank Carr said the workers feel they are justified in requesting a pay rise, particularly since they have not received one for around a decade.
Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross, has renewed his call for both the company and the unions to engage in “constructive and realistic negotiations” to address the issue.
“I sincerely call on the parties to the Iarnród Éireann pay dispute to continue to use the services of the Labour Court and the Work Relations Commission.” he commented. “It is important for the travelling public, and also for the staff and for the company itself, that public transport continues, and that the dispute is resolved in a realistic, fair and sustainable manner.”
Union representatives have criticised the Minister for failing to set up mutli-stakeholder forum which would include all transport companies, the National Transport Authority, the Department of Transport, plus trade unions, something he promised he would do at the time of the Bus Éireann dispute.
Longford-Westmeath deputy, Robert Troy (FF ), has slammed Minister Ross for his failure to set up the forum, something he says could have prevented industrial action from ever taking place.
Unions are warning that strike action could be extended into next year, leaving many worried that the dispute could negatively impact the Christmas and New Year period.