As Socialist Worker went to print, the Luas drivers fight for a decent pay rise was at a critical point. The driver’s union SIPTU had called off two planned days of strikes in return for a new offer of talks with Transdev.
This followed the company’s outrageous bullying of its workforce with threats of layoffs, pay cuts and even legal action against drivers if more strikes went ahead. Drivers who spoke to SW were unhappy with calling off the strikes and sceptical of any new offer from Transdev’s head Gerry Madden.
In a letter to all drivers Madden admitted the company would now be faced with huge costs for further strikes, as the previous ones were effectively paid for by the drivers losing their annual bonus and their pay on the days of the strike.
Drivers were angry that officials had agreed talks on behalf of other grades and seemed to be recommending a deal for those workers even before the drivers had started their negotiations.
The “new offer” from Madden still sees cuts for new recruits and increased productivity and seems likely to be worse than the deal rejected by drivers last month. It is likely any such deal will be rejected and the strikes will then go ahead.
If so, Luas drivers will need solidarity and support from other trade unionists and transport workers. Transdev are backed by both the Government and mass media in their attacks on the drivers.
Despite Minister Donoghue’s previous claims, he was forced to admit in a reply to a Dail question by Brid Smith that his officials and those of Transport Infrastructure Ireland (who had a role in awarding Transdev their contract) have met with and are in regular contact with Transdev officials.
LUAS drivers suspect that Transdev are working closely with Government officials . The Government and all bosses in Ireland have a huge interest in stopping Luas workers from winning. They understand that if Luas drivers win it will inspire many groups to demand wage rises after eight years of austerity and pay freezes and cuts.
While social and mass media have been filled with attacks on Luas workers, many workers understand what is at stake and why the Luas fight is so important. One tactic of the media is to compare Luas workers to new recruits in teaching and nursing. SW spoke to some workers involved in fighting for equal pay in these professions and found widespread support for Luas drivers and their stance against lower pay rates for new recruits.
A newly qualified primary school teacher in West Dublin said;
“I fully support the Luas workers action. When I heard of the attempts to impose lower pay rates on new entrants to the job, I was really impressed by the solidarity of drivers when they went on strike rather than sell out anyone who may join the job in future. In teaching, three different pay scales exist for teachers who all do the same work. Some receive more pay than others simply because they started their career on a different date. It’s a disaster and I think it should not be accepted anywhere. I will be delighted if the Luas workers win a pay rise because I think they have a just cause and to be honest it will give all of us fighting for pay equality a big boost.”
Jo, a nurse at Dublin’s St James Hospital said; “I’m amazed at the concern from some quarters about the poor rates of pay for new nurses, when we tried to resist the Governments imposition of those rates I don’t remember hearing their concerns voiced then. Their new found concern is a ruse to justify attacking the first group that stood up for itself, Yes , young nurses deserve better pay, but the very people who put them on these rates are the ones attacking the Luas workers now”
An INTO activist said; “ The drivers rejection of that deal should inspire all trade unionists here; for too long we’ve accepted cutting the starting rates of new entrants into our work places and it is undermining basic solidarity among workers. I hope the Luas guys win and start a trend for all trade unionists”
Far from been a struggling company. Transdev are part of a global French multinational with appalling human and employee rights records across the globe. While claiming to be losing money in Ireland, they still managed to repatriate almost 10 million Euro in profits back to their parent company since 2009 from the Luas operation.
One Luas driver explained “Transdev won’t negotiate with their workers when the contract is up for tender, they delay, and drag their feet hoping you go away”. They also put in a low tender bid which understates the labour costs or ignores any outstanding claims. ””Workers do not believe the company’s supposed loss of €700,000 in 2014 as at the time they claimed it was just an accounting change in how they audited accounts and their costs didn’t rise while revenues and passenger numbers increased. Their contract to run the Luas is secret but we suspect they receive large bonuses for meeting targets”
Their tactics in the Luas dispute echo their way of operating across the world.
Transdev’s parent company Veolia profits directly from the illegal occupation of Palestine and had supplied transport and water services to illegal settlements. It still has shares in Jerusalem’s light-rail service, which provides exclusive Israeli-only transportation to the illegal West Bank settlements. “Veolia and its subsidiaries like Transdev — which is 50 percent owned by Veolia and 50 percent owned by a French financial institution — have a horrendous track record of violations to human rights, labour rights and the environment globally. Veolia is the largest privatiser of public water services in the world.”