Trade Unions blast Bus Éireann over media reports

The NBRU has accused the company of trying to condition staff to accept cuts to their terms and conditions with information appearing in the media before talks can take place.

Trade unions have accused Bus Éireann of trying to condition staff into accepting cuts to their terms and conditions with information appearing in the media before talks can take place.

The Irish Times reports this morning that Bus Éireann staff could be facing cuts to overtime and changes to annual leave as part of a new plan to save the company from insolvency.

On Wednesday the company confirmed that it is facing insolvency within 18 months unless “decisive actions” are taken.

Reports earlier this week  indicated the company had signed off on a new survival plan which could include route cuts, job losses and lower pay for new recruits.

The new plan will also include a ban on recruitment and prohibitions on chartering buses from outside the company.

Speaking to Newstalk this afternoon, Dermot O’Leary, general secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) said the union will oppose any cuts “vigorously” and warned that the situation may lead to industrial action of one form or another over the next number of weeks and months.”

“This news this morning in The Irish Times coupled with the leaked Grant Thornton report from mid-week would appear to us to be designed simply to condition staff into accepting cuts to their terms and conditions,” said Mr O’Leary.

Multi-stakeholder talks

Mr O’Leary called on Bus Éireann management to “stop acting to protect the Department of Transport.”

He said the manner in which the news has surfaced in recent days has “all been designed to take the political heat” off the Minister for Transport, The Department of Transport and the National Transport Authority (NTA).

“To resort to the lowest common denominator and engage in a race to the bottom in terms of worker’s rights is not a way to run a transport system for the citizens of the state - lots of whom don’t have the various modes of transport that are available to us that live in the bigger cities,” he said.

“Management has changed in the last few weeks and the focus on staff is not conducive I would suggest to resolving this crisis.”

He said the current crisis can only be resolved with talks between the “four main stakeholders” - Bus Éireann, the Department of Transport, The National Transport Authority (NTA) and the trade unions.

Earlier, the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) called it “abhorrent” that details of the plans have been reported in the media while members of staff are left in the dark.

“It is disgraceful that the contents of this report and resultant plan, which is causing great concern to employees, are being widely commented on while the trade unions who represent these workers have not been presented with any of their details,” said SIPTU Sector Organiser, Willie Noone.

According to the reports earlier in the week, the company had been advised that closing down its Expressway intercity service could be its most viable option for the future.

Following meetings with the Minister for Transport, Shane Ross on Thursday the company’s acting CEO, Ray Hernan moved to placate fears the new financial plan would involve shutting down large swathes of its Expressway rural bus routes.

Mr Hernan insisted Expressway would remain a part of Bus Éireann and said challenges to making the service more competitive, “will only be resolved within the company structure.”

Political opposition

Any move to cut rural services will face strong political opposition with Fianna Fáil spokesperson on transport, Robert Troy insisting his party will not vote in favour of job losses or route closures.

“I fear that many large areas in between big towns and cities will have no direct Expressway services to Dublin or other cities," he said. "This is further evidence of the neglect of rural Ireland by Fine Gael and their Independent colleagues.”

“It is important that the future of Bus Éireann is secured, but the semi-state company must not abandon its obligation to serve communities right across the country."

Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Transport Imelda Munster criticised the plans “made behind closed doors” by the government and Bus Éireann management which she said had targeted, "the hard fought rights, entitlements and conditions of workers."

she said the crisis was created by the granting or routes to private operators leading to a saturation of rural routes:

“The automatic go-to response of excluding workers representatives is not the correct approach to take and it will only serve to heighten industrial unrest,” she said.

“It is clear that they took the decision, behind closed doors, to target the workers who did not create the crisis.

Ms Munster called on Minister Ross and the government to commit to engaging with all the stakeholders involved to find a resolution to the crisis. 

“The aim must be to ensure that together we find a way to protect, preserve and enhance our public transport network,” she said.

Green Party transport spokesperson Ciarán Cuffe said the government must “think outside the box” to protect the rural Expressway routes.

He said Minister Ross is not doing enough to tackle the crisis:

“Any changes at Bus Éireann must ensure that links to smaller towns and communities are not eliminated in order to make savings,” he said.

“Currently [Minister Ross] seems unable to provide the solutions that he espoused while in opposition.

“He must ensure that commuters are protected and ensure that all private operators honour the Free Travel Scheme so that vulnerable people are not penalised by privatisation.”