Rail management and unions were locked in talks at the Workplace Relations Commission late last night to try to resolve a pay dispute which threatens to stop all services over the October Bank Holiday weekend.
The sides were far apart going into the talks. Unions had demanded increases of 3.75% without productivity measures in previous discussions at the WRC. That is on a par with the amounts given to Dublin Bus and Luas workers last year on the back of strike action.
Those negotiations broke down when the company, claiming it was on the verge of insolvency, said it was only prepared to offer 1.5% accompanied by a range of demands on staff designed to make them more productive.
Those included outsourcing of work, loss of contracted hours, relocation of staff, closure of booking offices, and new performance management systems.
The unions have said workers, who have not received a pay increase in almost a decade, are no longer prepared to subsidise an under-funded public service in which subvention had been cut by 41% between 2008 and 2013.
Sources said the fact they were still in talks after almost 10 hours was positive.
However, it is understood that unions are determined that any talks on productivity will have to be for another day and they want the pay issue to be sorted out first.
It is thought unlikely that unions would be willing to even put a figure of less than 2.5% to their members for ballot.
The unions are due to count a different ballot, one for strike action, today. If that returns a result in favour of strikes, it could be activated by next weekend just as Irish Rail is busiest with holiday commuters.
Before this round of talks began, National Bus and Rail Union general secretary Dermot O’Leary warned the company that if it tried to engage in a futile exercise of kicking the can down the road in WRC, it would lead to widespread disruption to all rail services, inclusive of Inter-city, Commuter and Dart “within a matter of days”.
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