Socialist Worker industrial correspondent, Owen McCormack reports on important current disputes.
Irish rail workers fight for a pay increase should be supported by all workers. Its been over seven years since the train drivers received any pay rise while they have accepted numerous cost cutting and productivity deals worth over €75 million in savings. The most recent deal in 2014 saw a pay cut of around €1000 a year alongside extra work loads, new safety responsibilities and the operation of new services.
Despite these sacrifices, drivers are facing renewed demands for more productivity before they receive what the Irish Rail management already owes them. Behind the company’s tough talk lies a government and employer strategy to dampen down any demands for pay rises from workers nationally.
While the media and Government talk of the company losing millions of Euro, this is an attempt to mask the fact that this is caused by Government cuts in investment in public transport service, not workers. The Government has savaged the funding to public transport since the recession began in 2008. Its Public Service Obligation (PSO) funding to the whole CIE group has fallen from €303 million in 2008 to just €212 million last year. Workers and the public have had to suffer the consequences. Fares have risen dramatically in all three transport companies; bus services have been reduced and amalgamated while workers have faced worsening pay and conditions.
The hysterical media attack on rail workers is laughable. The claim that they are threatening the “national recovery” should be seen by all workers for what it is: a naked attempt to keep all workers down while the recovery continues in the profits and wealth of a tiny minority. If this dispute is to win, rail drivers will need to pressure their union leaders to escalate action beyond one day or three hour stoppages. Action among CIE workers should be coordinated and a clear message sent that the days of bullying workers into accepting austerity are gone.
The rail dispute is the first of a number of impending pay disputes that show workers are beginning to recover some confidence after seven years of cuts and austerity. Dublin bus workers and Luas drivers are also threatening strike action over pay rises. Rail workers voted by over 95% for strike action, ballots in Dublin Bus would almost certainly return huge votes for similar action. The only way workers will see a real recovery is to take action similar to the rail workers and demand decent pay rises and an end to the cuts and austerity era. The employers and media are desperate to make sure that no group of workers win such a fight least it gives inspiration to others; for that reason alone we should all get behind the rail workers.
SIPTU and the NBRU have both lodged pay claims for over 6% that workers are owed since 2009. The company are trying to wring extra productivity from drivers for what they effectively already owe them. This comes after two major productivity and cost cutting plans that saw lay scale redundancies, cuts in services and reduced earnings for workers. New drivers are now placed on a drastically reduced six year pay scale and work continuous late shifts. In 2013 workers where browbeaten into accepting a cost cutting plan that took over 6 million euro in earnings from them. However within months of the deal being accepted, Dublin Bus accounts showed rising passenger numbers and last year it returned an 11 million profit. Many drivers now believe they were fooled into accepting that deal and frustration is growing at the length of time the talks on a pay rise are taking.
One driver told Socialist Worker “ it’s been over seven years since we had a pay rise and we have given cost savings amounting to millions since 2008; with USC and other stealth taxes we have had enough; talk of green shoots of recovery mean nothing if our pay packets are still less now than they were in 2007, the budget will make little difference to most of us here”