Transport chiefs accused of aping Oliver Twist

Unions have accused both the board of CIE and management at Iarnrod Éireann of “aping Oliver Twist” in their “embarrassing” approach to seeking funding from government for Ireland’s rail network.

The claim came during yesterday’s 24-hour rail strike, which shut services across Iarnrod Éireann’s intercity, Dart, and commuter routes — the first of five such stoppages planned in the coming weeks.

A joint letter from the five unions representing Iarnrod Éireann staff to the CIE Group described government underfunding as being the “core problem”.

“For far too long, we have been witnessing the servile approach by both the CIÉ Board and Iarnrod Éireann senior management, towards the policymakers and the paymasters in the Department of Transport, almost aping Oliver Twist, by putting the hand out and saying: ‘please, Sir, can I have some more?’,” the unions said.

“This has become an embarrassment to those that work across the CIE companies. It is long since passed time that leadership was provided by your board, by calling on the department to release the foot from the throat of Iarnrod Éireann, and allow the company to meaningfully engage with staff, in order to provide them with a substantial pay rise,” they said.

The industrial action is a result of an impasse between the company management and unions, the latter seeking a 3.75% pay increase, without any associated productivity measures, for Iarnrod Éireann workers.

They say workers have not received a pay rise in almost a decade, and are effectively subsidising an underfunded public service that has seen its subvention cut by 41%, from 2008 to 2013.

However, the company has only offered 1.75%, accompanied by productivity measures, and has warned that it is facing insolvency, if it suffers further losses.

Iarnrod Éireann estimated that some 150,000 journeys were disrupted by yesterday’s action, and four more days of 24-hour stoppages are planned; November 7, November 14, November 23, and December 8.

Failure to resolve the dispute is likely to see the strikes escalate.

The decision to strike on December 8 — traditionally a busy shopping day in the run-up to Christmas — has drawn criticism from the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises (ISME) Association, who accused unions of “weasel words” in its suggestion that industrial action is a “last resort”.

“For many retailers, December 8 and the four weeks to Christmas will make or break their business,” ISME chief executive, Neil McDonnell, said.

“Hitting commuters at that time is beneath contempt, but demonstrates the weakness of their argument: it is only by targeting certain times that the already poor rail services can inflict any pain on us,” he said.

The Union of Students in Ireland warned that students in rural areas will be denied the chance to sit their exams, if the strikes continue into December.


Finding your tribe

Irish people living in US lockdowns and fearing for the lives of their children

Ask Audrey: What's the story with dying your pubes?

The Menu: All the latest food news from around the world

More From The Irish Examiner