October 24 2017 0Comment


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25TH October 2017

Members will be aware that discussions broke down at the WRC on Thursday last.

There is nothing out of the ordinary in the above statement, it has happened many times over the years, however, this time was significantly different.

Before explaining what happened, let us look at what the CEO has been peddling in his ‘David’s Dashboard’ in the Weekly Circular.

‘…. we made a number of improvements to our position, putting forward proposals to increase pay by 1.75%. This included funding parts of this increase through non-payroll efficiencies, and initiatives including policies on performance management, absenteeism management, re-deployment for surplus staff, vehicle management and payroll. We would then further engage to identify potential measures for a second and third year of improvements in pay.
Unfortunately, following 12 hours of discussions, this was not accepted by our trade unions, and talks ended without agreement’

The foregoing conjures up the spirit of Abraham Lincoln:

“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”

So, what happened?

To fully understand the dynamic in relation to what occurred on Thursday night last one would have to have an understanding of how the WRC does its business.

The Workplace Relations Commission performs its role in an understated fashion, its integrity is vital, the trust of both parties is something that is paramount, otherwise it would not be able to act as an ‘honest broker’ or ‘good shepherd’

It is for this reason that the Commission rarely comments in public with regard to the many hundreds of Conciliations it provides year on year.

Now, back to the message imparted by the CEO, above:

• Staff are being asked to accept this version of what happened on Thursday last
• Staff are being expected to accept that the Trade Unions would spend nearly twelve hours talking on issues which would only produce a 1.75% offer, with ‘productivity’ strings attached.
I will speak on behalf of the NBRU, though I am sure all Union colleagues would concur.

In the first instance, I as lead for the NBRU delegation, was at the WRC last Thursday, unlike of course the CEO and the Communications director of Iarnród Éireann.

The industrial relations situation at Iarnród Éireann has been extremely volatile over recent years, getting something done on behalf of staff on a Union to Company basis is next to nigh impossible.

We have been at the WRC on many occasions over the last number of years on a variety of issues, almost all to do with pay for one Group or another, or as is currently the case, pay for all Staff, including it should be noted, those that publicly talk against us.!

Each and every time we have had to put up with the constant interference from outside of the process by the CEO, the Company line (spin) of course being one of his entitlement to have a view on matters affecting the Company.

We couldn’t agree more, with one slight caveat, if you are sending in a team to represent Iarnród Éireann at so-called pay talks, then that team should have the authority to negotiate, i.e. ‘the mandate to negotiate’

We are talking here about up to ten plus senior managers, who’s combined salary’s must come to circa €1m plus, turning up to (don’t laugh) business with Staff representatives.

The frustrations experienced by Union representatives reached a point on the 27th September, that we asked the WRC facilitator to request the presence of the CEO at the discussions, we were sick of talking to the monkey, we wanted to sit in front of the organ grinder.

Suffice to say, no sign of the Organ Grinder.
Fast forward to last Thursday.

The WRC made contact with all parties on Wednesday the 18th to return to conciliation, the respective Trade Unions were due to both count, and subsequently announce results of ballots for industrial action on Friday 20th October.
This was the context for the call-in, this call we presume, was being made on the basis that the WRC felt that progress could be made.
From our perspective we informed the WRC that we would attend, though we would not last too long at any discussions if the previous modus operandi were replicated, i.e. interference from the CEO.

It is against this context that members are asked to view the events of last Thursday.

Having entered the Workplace Relations Commission at approximately 11.30am, we relied on the WRC facilitator to engage in shuttle diplomacy, not abnormal in this type of difficult discussions, remember that there was an effective deadline on these discussions, ballot results and announcements pending etc.

The Trade Unions stuck with the process from 11.30am right through to approximately 11pm (23.00), why?

To believe ‘David’s Dashboard’ you would think we were fiddling our thumbs, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Trade Unions were, through the good offices of the WRC working towards achieving a proposal that could possibly be put to ballot, (the overarching principle by which Unions operate, is the requirement to make a judgement as to whether a proposal should be considered by its membership).

The media reports which suggested a one-year, interim pay arrangement of 2.5% plus a consideration for retrospection, were not totally wide of the mark.

Would this have been enough to satisfy Staff at Iarnród Éireann?
That is a question that was never allowed to be answered.

Because at the eleventh hour, the proposal on which the WRC was working, was pulled.
Why the eleventh hour?

We have no idea, there have been rumours that the CEO was non-contactable for a period of five hours, we stress this is a rumour.

However, it certainly would tie-in with the timelines described above:

• Conciliation commenced at 11.30m, did not collapse until 11pm.

The simple fact of the matter being, if all that was being discussed was a paltry 1.75% with ‘productivity’ strings, then the Trade Unions would have left the WRC by early afternoon.
The trust placed with the WRC is paramount here, working away, as the Commission was, would rightly oblige the Trade Unions to remain with the discussions.

The above is a true and accurate picture of the sequence of events that played out last Thursday.

With regards to ‘David’s Dashboard’ and its contention that:

‘We remain committed to this process, and to resolving this claim through dialogue, and through the industrial relations machinery of the state. Customers should not be disrupted in any way while this process – set out by the Labour Court – has not yet been concluded’

Firstly, the irony attached to the ‘commitment to this process and to resolving this claim through dialogue, and through the industrial relations machinery of the State’ is laughable, though the serious industrial action which is pending is anything but funny.

The CEO also mentions ‘talks at the WRC followed a Labour Court recommendation, which stated that if the end of the WRC process there was outstanding issues, they should be referred back to the Labour Court for a final recommendation’

I’m afraid Mr Franks is confused here, there was/is no Labour Court recommendation suggesting that we refer anything back to the Court.

The Labour Court did issue a letter, requesting that both parties return to the WRC for a period of five weeks in order to explore all matters which might have potential to contribute to a resolution of this dispute.

But here’s the rub for us:

• 1.75% does not have the potential to contribute to a resolution of this dispute

There are others to this debate that might feel that the industrial relations institutions are ‘fair game’ to be used, there are some who would, without compunction, have the good Offices of the Labour Court into abused. The NBRU will not be party to a charade.

For the benefit of those who (still perhaps) don’t know how this jurisdiction deals with industrial relations, it’s a system based on the voluntarist approach, i.e. it takes both parties to agree to partake.
I suppose you could say that the choices open to the CEO to not allow a proposal to emanate, are similar to those available to the Trade Unions, we are not prepared to engage in a scenario which would potentially end up damaging the very Body (Labour Court) that we tend to rely on to close gaps created by…… wait for it, DISCUSSION AND NEGOTIATION, it is not there to bridge a gap as wide as the GRAND CANYON.

In the meantime, the five days of stoppages planned through November and into December will now go ahead as planned.

The conduct of the Company to-date has severely damaged the potential for an early solution.

Dermot O’Leary
General Secretary

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