Further Luas strikes as Workplace Relations Commission accused of bias

As Luas workers embark on yet another 48-hour strike this morning, the likelihood of further stoppages — at least until June — has risen significantly with the effective removal of one of the main mediation bodies capable of finding a resolution.

Jack O’Connor, president of Siptu, which represents the Luas staff, said he saw no further role for the Workplace Relations Commission in the dispute while Kieran Mulvey remains its director general. That was after the Siptu leader accused Mr Mulvey, who is due to retire in June, of attacking the workers in an interview on RTÉ radio yesterday morning.

During that interview, Mr Mulvey said it was “extraordinary” that Siptu had not contacted him after its members almost unanimously rejected WRC-brokered proposals which would have seen staff paid increases of up to almost 19%.

He also said that most union officials and most union members, if they had got those kinds of proposals from the commission “would go back to their members and receive a standing ovation”.

“We need to understand when to depart the field having had considerable success,” said Mr Mulvey. “By any mark, the proposals of the commission are considerable in the context of other agreements we have negotiated. I think that leadership has to come from both sides. But I think there is a particular onus here, if the service is being disrupted — it is not being disrupted by the company.”

The interview was barely concluded before Mr O’Connor went on radio to call for Mr Mulvey’s resignation.

“It is simply not credible for someone in that position of responsibility to come out and attack one of the parties to an industrial dispute, to attack workers...and still remain credible as a mediator,” said Mr O’Connor. “His presence there now will damage the perception of the institution he is heading up. Someone who is paid the amount of money that Kieran is paid by the taxpayer doesn’t have an entitlement to indulge himself in the way that he did this morning.”

Mr O’Connor said that Mr Mulvey’s intervention in the dispute — which he said yielded a “ridiculous proposal” — had been premature as there had been speculation the Irish Congress of Trade Unions had been about to seek a resolution.

He said “no self-respecting trade unionist in the country” would vote for the section of the WRC proposals which envisaged lower entry scales for new employees in the Luas. Mr O’Connor said Mr Mulvey had “discredited himself and the whole institution which he heads up”, adding: “I mean nothing personal against him but he has arrived at a time when it is appropriate to depart the stage.”

Mr Mulvey was back on radio by lunchtime, clearly indicating he had taken the comments personally. He said he knew nothing about any proposed ICTU intervention.

“If we don’t respect the outcome of disputes then we are in a difficult environment,” he said. “Over the last 12 months, I have seen the erosion of the institutions by parties and I am not talking exclusively about unions — employers as well. In all my career, 41 years, I have a track record of defending workers’ interests and rights. I won’t be told by anybody, irrespective of the position they hold, that I am biased.”


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