26 November 1998 Edition
Workers in struggle
CIE management to blame for dispute
Joyce seemed to be saying that O'Rourke should wash her hands of CIE and leave the unelected bureaucrats in charge of the company
An awful lot of predictions were made this week about the effects of the one day unofficial stoppage by Iarnród Eireann train drivers. It would create traffic chaos, we were told, but it didn't. It would cost Dublin retailers £800,000 in lost sales, but isn't it a more realistic proposition that most people would put off their shopping until another day?
The strike was supposedly a return to the ``bad old days''. It was, according to CIE chairperson Brian Joyce, ``something that needs to be relegated to the past''. Absent from the media and political comment on the strike was the story of what really happened this week.
300 workers, having felt that they had been pushed one step too far, exercised their economic power. Tens of thousands of people in Dublin were able to reschedule their day, get lifts or simply stay at home. The intent of the train drivers' strike was to show that if such a stoppage happened day after day the economic consequences would be far more serious.
There was also very little real comment on what were the chain of events that led to Tuesday's day of industrial of action. Workers at Iarnród Eireann have been in negotiations with management for over two years on the implementation of a viability plan for the company.
From the first day that viability plans were proposed by CIE management the process has been unnecessarily combative. The negotiations opened with a set of management demands that workers would effectively accept their proposals without negotiations.
Coercion and Bullying
As a result of such attitudes CIE management in 1996 found itself in conflict with workers at Bus Ath Cliath, Bus Eireann and finally Iarnród Eireann. To compound matters Iarnród Eireann decided not to pay the final part of an agreed wage increase, pushing rail workers to ballot for strike action.
For the intervening two years management at CIE and its subsidiary Iarnród Eireann have attempted to coerce and bully their workers into accepting new working conditions that would leave the CIE employees effectively worse off.
The appointment of Mary O'Rourke as Public Enterprise minister was a small positive first step. O'Rourke forced CIE management to stop pushing their workers towards industrial action. The stoppage this week arose from a dissatisfaction with management attitudes in the negotiating process and the public comments of CIE chairperson Brian Joyce.
Joyce called on Mary O'Rourke to give an ``unequivocal and unambivalent statement'' that she would not ``be a party to the negotiation, conciliation and arbitration process'' in CIE.
Joyce seemed to be saying that O'Rourke should wash her hands of CIE and leave the unelected bureaucrats in charge of the company.
CIE workers were incensed at Joyce's comments and this is what led to Tuesday's stoppage.
At the heart of the deliberations is the desire of train drivers to get a decent wage. Much has been made of the fact that drivers can earn over £28,000 a year. The little detail that they have to put in over 48 hours work, doing seven days a week to get this money has been overlooked.
Peter Bunting, General Secretary of the National Bus and Railworkers Union, told An Phoblacht that he wanted talks to restart. There were, he said, 12 major areas of contention to be resolved. He hoped that ``the lessons of Tuesday's stoppage had sunk in'' and that the events would change the ``mindset of management''.
Earlier in the week Bunting said: ``In the end of the day we can only solve things by sitting down around the table''. In order for this to happen the Dublin Government must play its role and participate in the negotiations.
If Brian Joyce cannot face up to this he should consider his position and leave CIE. Unelected officials should not be able to dictate terms to elected public representatives.
Fight the power
Privatisation is a bad idea in any industry. Back door privatisation is even worse.
A time of crisis or of opportunity - which of these describes the current situation in Ireland's electricity market?
In the 26 Counties you have the state-owned ESB under pressure from the Dublin Government and the EU who want to privatise the company.
In the Six Counties you have Viridian, the private sector owners of Northern Ireland Electricity, a hugely profitable company that produces some of the most expensive electricity for consumers in Britain or Ireland.
In the last week it has been announced that an electricity interconnector is to be constructed between the Six Counties and Britain. Sinn Féin has opposed the interconnector on the basis that it could mean electricity generated by nuclear power being distributed on the Irish grid.
However the Dublin Government seems unconcerned at these consequences or at the fact that British electricity producers could use the connector to gain access to the Irish market and undermine the position of Irish electricity producers.
The British producers, because of their greater size compared to ESB, can create electricity more cheaply. But this does not mean that the consumers would win out.
The situation in the Six Counties where Viridian control the market is a good example of the consequences of electricity privatisation. Viridian were forced to pay rebates to Six-County customers because of their high prices.
Low costs give foreign producers the chance to dominate the market. Once they gain a dominant position prices for consumers will rise. Last week Viridian announced that they were formally moving into the 26-County electricity market. They are to build a power station in North County Dublin. It has also become clear that the ESB is facing a supply crisis because successive governments have been dragging their heels on giving the go-ahead for new power plants.
The Dublin Government cannot give the go-ahead because of the need to guarantee EU competition. However, it seems that electricity competition is happening without any input from the Dublin Government. Control of the state's electricity producing capacity is vital to the future wellbeing of the state. Privatisation is a bad idea in any industry. Back door privatisation is even worse. The Dublin Government must act to protect the interests of the Irish people.