Union chief warns against rift among public sector transport workers

ANY split among SIPTU's public sector transport workers would be severely damaging to the union and ultimately impact on the public at large, union president Jack O’Connor warned last night.

In an effort to shore up angry dissent in Aer Rianta and CIÉ branches, Mr O'Connor offered an olive branch to those angered by their leader's decision to call off strike action planned for yesterday.

In a statement, he warned against the dangers of disunity saying the threats confronting employees, the travelling public and Irish society as a whole require a measured and disciplined response from the trade union movement.

“Contrary to what some members who disagreed with our decision not to proceed with industrial action are saying, we are under no illusions about the scale of the threat we face from Seamus Brennan and other right wing elements in the Ryanair wing of the present Government.

"It is precisely for this reason that we believe we must step with the utmost care.”

In a direct response to threats from CIÉ strike committee member Bill McCamley to take a legal challenge against the decision of SIPTU leaders to call off yesterday's strike, Mr O' Connor said: “Rushing to the media or the courts will do nothing but play into the hands of those whose sole aim is the dismembering of the public transport system at the expense of our members’ jobs, the quality of services to the public and the wider economy.”

Although he declined an offer to meet with SIPTU's leadership today Mr McCamley said he would meet Mr O'Connor today.

“I'll remind Jack what our negotiating position is. It was not the shop stewards or strike committee that moved away from that and I'll be wanting to know why we have moved away from that,” he said.

Aer Rianta worker director Peter Dunne said members at the airports were angry at union leaders and did not want to continue discussions with the Department of Transport.

“We would be very unhappy if any SIPTU officer would go to any of these meetings because, if they do, they would not be representing the Aer Rianta workers. If they sign up to anything they are not signing up on our behalf,” he said.

However Mr Dunne said the prospect of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern becoming involved may improve any negotiations. “We have hope with the fact that the Taoiseach may get involved or have Seamus Brennan put forward the information we have been looking for all this time.”

Mr O'Connor said it was critical that time be given to the Taoiseach to honour the assurances in his letter to SIPTU. However, he declined to rule out the possibility of strike action in the future.

“It may well be that SIPTU will have to take major industrial action in defence of members jobs and to protect essential elements of the country’s infrastructure from being asset stripped for the short-term gain of powerful lobbies within our society.

“Firstly, however, we must exhaust every possible opportunity to resolve the disputes at Aer Rianta and CIÉ peacefully,” he said.

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