Sligo rail passengers face a renewed risk of industrial disruption after train drivers overwhelmingly rejected a Labour Court recommendation that would have delivered a pay rise of over 1% in return for certain productivity. Unions have not balloted for industrial action but have warned that if the company attempts to implement changes without agreement, workers will react. RTÉ
reported that more than 93% of National Bus and Rail Union members voted to reject the 1.15% pay rise awarded by the Labour Court, while 83% of drivers belonging to SIPTU also voted no.
NBRU General Secretary Dermot O'Leary said the onus was now on management and unions to examine why the proposal was rejected.
However, he warned that, if the company "pressed the nuclear button" by implementing changes without agreement, there would be problems.
Mr O'Leary told RTÉ's Drivetime
that the issue relates to train drivers seeking to improve their terms and conditions relative to their counterparts in the UK.
SIPTU Organiser Paul Cullen said the ballot result was indicative of the current state of industrial relations within Iarnród Éireann and showed the depth of dissatisfaction among drivers.
He said that the ball was now in management's court but that if the company introduced changes without consent, SIPTU would not be found wanting in delivering a "fair, swift and just" response.
The 1.15% drivers' award was on top of a general increase of 2.5% per year for three years awarded to all Iarnród Éireann staff.
It was to reflect "past productivity" and would have required the drivers to accept mentoring of new drivers, which up to now has been voluntary.
However, pending agreement on the issue, for the last 20 months drivers have refused to mentor any new drivers, leaving 31 trainees unable to qualify as full drivers.
This row has also contributed to the delay in introducing a ten-minute frequency on Dublin's DART service and the expansion of other services.
Union sources said the vote also reflects driver frustration at Iarnród Éireann giving staff a €500 voucher for Dunnes Stores (as part of a Labour Court recommendation) instead of a "One for All" voucher that could be spent anywhere.They were also concerned that to sign up for the voucher, they had to log on to an Iarnród Éireann email address.
However, drivers said that up to 800 staff did not have access to a computer, and many feared that this could herald the introduction by stealth of monthly electronic payment.
It is understood that more than 200 Iarnród Éireann employees are still paid in cash on a weekly basis.
Iarnród Éireann said it regretted the drivers' ballot result after two years of engagement, adding that it would be urgently considering the outcome.
However, a spokesperson declined to comment on whether the company would now proceed to implement much needed change without agreement.
The company noted that non-cooperation with training was preventing much needed service expansion, including the increased frequency on DART services, and expansion of off-peak commute services, at a time when passenger numbers had climbed to 45.5 million last year, matching levels in 2007. It said the Labour Court proposals would have increased the drivers mentoring allowance by almost 35%.
Iarnród Éireann also pointed out that it had tendered for the €500 vouchers and had saved around €230,000 by going with the Dunnes Stores proposal.
Meanwhile it has been announced this morning that the Chief Executive of Iarnród Éireann will leave the company in the next few months to take a senior position in the Australian public transport sector.
The rail service said David Franks, who was appointed Chief Executive in February 2013, "led the organisation through one of its most challenging financial eras".
Irish Rail Chairman Frank Allen thanked Mr Franks for his "immense contribution".
The board will begin recruiting a new Chief Executive soon.