Unions warn strikes across transport system "inevitable"

Talks aimed at resolving the Bus Éireann dispute collapsed at the Workplace Relations Commission last night

Unions warn strikes across transport system "inevitable"

Bus Eireann buses in Dublin | Image: Rollingnews.ie

Unions representing workers at Bus Éireann have warned that strikes across the public transport system now look “inevitable” following the breakdown of negotiations last night.

Management at the company released a statement last night saying they are “extremely disappointed” that talks have broken down and accusing unions of showing “no flexibility” regarding plans to address inefficiencies in the company’s pay structure.

"While inefficiencies have been acknowledged and accepted by unions, there was a refusal to accept any reduction of earnings, including unnecessary overtime earnings,” company management said in the statement.

Negotiations have been underway since last week in an attempt to resolve the looming financial crisis at the company.

Cuts to take-home pay

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast this morning the general secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union, Dermot O’Leary said the trade unions had entered talks fully committed to engaging on efficiencies at the company which he said could “potentially generate significant savings.”

“Unfortunately we have found, during the course of the last couple of days in particular, that the company reverted back to the first agenda item which was to force cuts on people’s take-home pay,” he said.

He said take-home pay cuts are “untenable from our point of view” and warned that if the company attempts to enforce them without agreement it is “inevitable” that the country will be facing strikes across the entire public transport system.

Minister for Transport

Responding the collapse of the talks, Solidarity-PBP TD Mick Barry called on Transport Minister Shane Ross to “finally get off the fence and intervene.”

“These talks were set up to fail,” he said. “Either the unions would give major concessions or the company would pull out and try to hold a gun to the workers' heads with threats of closure.”

He said the subvention provided by the state to the company has dropped significantly since 2008 and called on Minister Ross to increase the payment dramatically, “or stand over the collapse of a key part of the public transport network.”

"Public services like Bus Éireann and An Post are being starved of state funding to the point which they may collapse," he said. “This will open the door for the privatisation of these services.”
 
"These companies provide a public service which should not be expected to turn a profit or opened up to privatisation."

Unfair portrayal

SIPTU sector organiser Willie Noone said Bus Éireann management was “unfairly attempting to portray the unions as being unreasonable and inflexible.”

He said that unions had indicated throughout the negotiations that while every effort would be made to avoid dispute and deliver an acceptable outcome for all parties they could not accept “any plan which would slash wages and terms and conditions.”

“We entered the talks in good faith,” he said. “Our proposal would help drive out inefficiencies while simultaneously securing a decent wage for workers but this proposal was not deemed sufficient for management who claimed it would not bring in immediate savings even though there have been huge savings made by the company over recent years.”

Unnecessary overtime

Responding to last night’s statement from company management, Mr Noone said unions, “can say categorically that our members never would try and justify ‘unnecessary overtime.’”

“What management proposed was that some drivers would drive considerably more hours and retain traditional payments but others would not be given the same opportunity and hence get their pay cut,” he said. “The unfairness and inequity of that proposal were highlighted immediately by SIPTU representatives.”

He said that while unions were willing to support a “strict time-bound process” for getting rid of inefficiencies in the company structure, plans by management to introduce changes “almost immediately” would result in savage reductions in pay for workers.

He accused company management of attempting to concentrate cuts “on ordinary workers who provide services at unsocial hours” without providing any detail regarding what cuts will be introduced at management level.