Rail pay offer ‘the best that could be achieved’

The spectre of further rail chaos has receded after unions representing Irish Rail workers opted to suspend industrial action pending the result of a ballot on a Labour Court recommendation.

If accepted, the company’s 3,800 employees will benefit from a 2.5% increase, year on year, for the next three years.

Last night, a spokesman for Siptu, Greg Ennis, said the offer was “the best that could be achieved at this time” and was “worthy of a ballot” of the membership. As a result, industrial action planned for November 14 and 23, as well as December 8, was being suspended.

The offer is an improvement on the 1.75% increase put forward by the company, which was also seeking productivity measures. However, it is less than the 3.75% “no strings attached” that unions had sought.

Irish Rail was last night “considering” the recommendation — it is understood the company is likely to accept.

It welcomed the suspension of industrial action, saying: “This ensures that full services will operate on 14th and 23th November, and 8th December. This will include additional Dart, Commuter, and Intercity services for the Republic of Ireland v Denmark World Cup play-off on 14th November.”

Transport Minister Shane Ross welcomed the decision to suspend industrial action.

“I am sure the travelling public welcomes the announcement that the unions are suspending industrial action while the ballot takes place,” he said.

There are a number of strands to the recommendation, including no future industrial action over the lifetime of the agreement, in relation to the deal, which expires November 30, 2020.

The agreement would take effect from December 1 and provide for a 2.5% increase on that date and on the same date in 2018 and 2019.

As a “once-off” goodwill gesture, it is recommended the company give workers a €500 voucher next month, “recognising the efforts of staff over the last 10 years”, during which there were no pay rises.

There is a proviso that unions not make any future cost-increasing claims during the lifetime of the agreement and that the company not propose any measures, outside of the agreement, that would change employees terms and conditions “except through the medium of productivity discussion”.

The court recommends the parties agree, in principle, over a three-month period concluding on February 28, a number of measures, including a performance management scheme and a strengthened absenteeism policy.

It also recommends that parties engage, inter alia, on payroll reform, redeployment of surplus staff, rostering, organisational structure for new entrants, reform of some allowances, and review of station staff level.

This engagement should be finalised by April 30, with any outstanding matters referred back to the Labour Court.

Finally, the court endorsed a proposal at its hearing that a forum be set up of all relevant public transport stakeholders “to bring clarity to issues affecting this company and public transport generally... which have the potential to impinge on a stable industrial relations climate in this company and the sector generally”.

The court declined to make a recommendation in relation to a number of issues raised by the company, saying it had “long-established procedures” to address them, including contract hours for new entrants, core work practices in engineering, rostering flexibility, and practice in relation to location of work.

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