Category: Archive

Wildcat strike derails Irish train service

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — Rebel train engineers whose unofficial job action has been causing severe disruption of services for seven weeks, sharply escalated their wildcat action for the August bank holiday weekend and caused travel chaos.

The Irish Locomotive Drivers Association dramatically stepped up its action last Thursday by causing commuter chaos in Dublin when they placed illegal secondary pickets on bus depots and the suburban DART train.

Then, throughout the bank holiday weekend the breakaway group blocked level crossings on mainline routes in what Iarnrod Eireann (Irish Rail) said was reckless behavior.

The 110-strong ILDA refused to participate in a new deal for rail drivers that was accepted by SIPTU and National Bus and Railwaymens’ Union. The ILDA does not have negotiating rights with the company.

The deal offers a five-day, 48-hour week. Earnings would rise from the current minimum of £14,500 a year plus overtime to an overall £29,500. The ILDA says the dispute is about safety matters.

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The row reached its 50th day on bank holiday Sunday with no sign of a break and a meeting of the ILDA executive in Tullamore, Co. Offaly, saying it would participate in any "reasonable initiative."

It added that its members were standing firm and would continue to refuse to work the new agreement and the rosters involved.

The ILDA members have not received wages for over seven weeks and wives and children have been involved in picketing.

It is estimated 100,000 of the 250,000 people who usually travel by rail during the August Bank Holiday either made other arrangements or canceled their journey. The loss to the rail company for the weekend alone is over £500,000.

The uncertainty of the schedules during the dispute have already cost the rail firm millions and holiday destinations like Killarney and Westport say tourism business has been devastated so far this season.

Cork and Kerry claim to have lost out on over £15 million in business and Galway and Mayo put their losses at about £10 million.

Westport has been particularly badly hit, with minimal trains reaching the town since the dispute started and passengers having to be bussed from Athlone.

The dispute has also hit business travel and patients who have to travel to Dublin for specialist medical treatment.

Public Enterprise Minister Mary O’Rourke broke her summer holidays to meet the Killarney Rail Action Group, which represents local business interests, last Friday. She accused the rebels of holding the country to ransom.

The minister said it was a "very sorry tale" for people involved in tourism.

O’Rourke said two-thirds of the drivers are working and one third are in dispute and a big problem is the uncertainty about which scheduled trains are running and which are canceled.

The Labor Court had taken legal advice and could not intervene in the dispute because the High Court ruled that it is not a negotiating body, she said. That decision is being appealed to the Supreme Court but it is not due to be heard until the courts return from vacation in the fall.

While the minister has plans to deregulate the bus service in Dublin, she said there is no similar plans for the national rail service and she does not intend to go to cabinet with privatization proposals.

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