Talks on pay increases for staff broke down at the Workplace Relations Commission late on Wednesday night when the company put forward a 1.5% pay increase accompanied by productivity requirements.
The unions had been demanding 3.75% without precondition, similar to others in the transport sector, though it is believed they may have considered balloting their members on any increase over 2.5% if, again, it was not accompanied with productivity terms.
Siptu pointed out that Mr Ross has previously said he cannot intervene in a dispute once industrial action is under way.
“Rather than allow a situation to develop which results in another transport dispute which will only damage the company, inconvenience the travelling public, and result in more financial hardship for our members, it is essential that the minister accepts his responsibilities and intervenes now rather than later,” said Siptu sector organiser Willie Noone.
“Our members in Irish Rail are calling upon him to use the current window of opportunity to work towards preventing another round of avoidable travel chaos.”
Dermot O’Leary, general secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union, said the National Transport Authority had been on record as saying Irish Rail has been underfunded “by successive governments stretching back over a long number of years”.
“It is our understanding that the recent rail review — jointly undertaken by Irish Rail and the NTA — which is now before the minister for his consideration, includes a proposal that Irish Rail should be reimbursed circa €125m to compensate for the funding shortfall from 2010 to 2016,” he said.
“Such an injection would assist towards alleviating the so-called legacy debt issue being used as cover by the company to resist the claim for a well-deserved and long overdue pay rise for staff.
“The minister cannot be allowed to use the hoary old chesnut of using the taxpayers’ chequebook, given that the agency under his direct control has already recommended that it be opened to plug underfunding gap.”
The company said it had been open and clear with employees and unions about its financial position which, it said, was extremely challenging, with insolvency looming if more losses occurred.
“The talks were requested by the Labour Court to take place over a maximum five-week period. On this timescale, there are at least two weeks remaining,” said a spokesman.
“Given the fact that there was movement on both sides yesterday [including the withdrawal by the company of any proposal to freeze increments], the arbitrary deadline of yesterday by unions and rush to ballot and to disrupt services to customers is inexplicable.”
He said many of its measures which could yield early increases, such as payroll systems, performance management, and absenteeism management, were efficiencies that would not impact on staff members’ day-to-day work and roles but would yield improvements in earnings.
“The company also wishes to clarify what has been said by the unions in reference to line closures.
“Irish Rail does not have a role in deciding on the extent of the network. This is a matter for Government and NTA who are currently considering the scale of network based on last year’s rail review. The issue was raised for discussion of the model that would follow should any decisions on line closures be made and did not propose any such action.”