The Iarnród Éireann pay dispute is to be referred to the Labour Court after today's talks between management and unions at the Workplace Relations Commission failed to secure agreement.

Workers are seeking a pay rise totalling 21%, or at the very least, a deal equivalent to increases secured in recent disputes at the Luas and Dublin Bus of around 3.75% per year.

It is understood that at today's negotiations, unions sought a flat rate increase for staff with "no strings attached" in terms of productivity.

However, the company has insisted that any increases must be funded through additional efficiencies.

Management has pointed out that the Iarnród Eireann lost €3 million last year, and has an accumulated deficit of €153 million.

It is unclear when the Labour Court will be in a position to hear the case.

So far Iarnród Éireann unions have not balloted for industrial action over the pay claim.

Arriving for the talks, Iarnród Éireann Director of Human Resources Ciaran Masterson noted that the company has an accumulated deficit of €153m, and losses last year of €3m. 

He said that without Government support, the company would be in a very difficult situation.

He pointed out that last October, the company had reinstated a 25-month pay pause introduced during the economic crisis.

Asked about productivity, he said that everything the company does has to be funded, and they would have to generate funds to meet the aspirations of staff.

National Bus and Rail Union General Secretary Dermot O'Leary defended the 21% pay claim.

Asked about the company's difficult financial situation, he said if staff were to be paid on the basis of the railway making money, they would be on minimum wage. 

He said the issue was that the Government had responsibility to properly fund railways and other public transport.

He said workers deserved to have their pay improved after nine years.

SIPTU Industrial Organiser Paul Cullen said members were determined that after eight years of retrenchment measures, they were not prepared to accept anything other than 21% or whatever their colleagues in Dublin Bus or other organisations in the transport industry had secured.

He said Iarnród Éireann staff had not yet balloted for industrial action, as they hoped the company would attend today's talks in positive mode, and present some form of pay offer.

Asked about the financial difficulties facing Irish Rail, Mr Cullen said that current travel revenue at €193m was back at 2009 levels. He said the deficit had reduced significantly over the last number of years.

He noted that members had contributed to €25m in savings, and now wanted a return on that.

Elsewhere in the transport sector, Bus Éireann unions have served formal notice of an all-out, indefinite strike from 20 February if management proceeds with unilateral cost reduction measures including cuts in pay and conditions. 

As of now, no negotiations are planned.

In addition, the NBRU is threatening to ballot its members in Dublin Bus for strike action if a row over pensionability of a recent pay increase is not resolved.