All-out bus strike deferred as company says it will negotiate pay rise with unions
An all-out indefinite strike at Bus Éireann that would have affected 110,000 passengers a day from Monday has been deferred after the company pledged that "funds will be available" for a voluntary severance scheme and it will negotiate with unions on a pay rise.
But the company insisted that Transport Minister Shane Ross had not "opened his chequebook" to bail out the commercial semi-State firm that faces the threat of insolvency in two months. A spokesperson said the funding for any future scheme will be provided by the CIÉ Group.
Unions suspended industrial action and management agreed to hold off on imposing cuts from Monday after accepting an invitation to talks at the Workplace Relations Commission on the financial crisis facing the company.
The National Bus and Railworkers' Union (NBRU) had warned that the public faced the "mother of all transport disputes" and there was the prospect of unofficial action infecting all the CIÉ companies.
In correspondence between the Workplace Relations Commission, unions and the company yesterday, seen by the Irish Independent, the company said it was "very conscious of the significant long-term damage that could be caused by a strike".
It said that "streamlining" and improved efficiencies would allow for a reduction in staff numbers and "we can expect financial support in the short term" if they could come up with a viable plan to address insolvency.
The company said voluntary severance could begin to be rolled out over the next 12 to 18 months and redeployment would also be used.
"We are confident that if we reach agreement on improved efficiencies and show how this is addressing the imminent threat of insolvency, that funds will be made available to provide for the cost of voluntary severance," said the message from Stratis Senior Partner Brendan McCarthy on the company's behalf.
"Bus Éireann is in imminent risk of insolvency and steps must be taken immediately to address this financial crisis. Non engagement by the parties on a survival plan will only hasten insolvency and reckless trading."
In addition, he said the company was willing to negotiate with unions on a pay increase although it must be "justified in its own right".
He said a solid commitment from unions to improve efficiency, to include the application of all existing negotiated agreements, "will overcome the immediate threat of insolvency".
Bus Éireann said its decision to close three routes and cut services on two others would only be deferred while talks were under way.
In a letter to the company yesterday, following a meeting in Clonmel on route closures, the NBRU demanded that the company halt the closure of the X7 route ahead of talks.
Tensions between unions and the company mounted earlier in the day as it was revealed that five workers on temporary contracts have been informed they will lose their jobs when the X7 between Waterford and Clonmel is axed on March 12.
Another nine drivers based in Clonmel will have to transfer to Waterford.
Siptu sector organiser Willie Noone claimed the company had rowed back on cuts it planned to impose. He said the union would play its part in trying to avert a national public transport dispute. "But we rely on the management of Bus Éireann making genuine efforts to reach a resolution," he said.
In a message to members, Siptu said the dispute can and must be won for the sake of Bus Éireann workers, its members in the commercial semi-State sector and workers across the 32 counties.
General secretary of the NBRU Dermot O'Leary said it would work towards resolving this crisis, but had advised members they should remain on a war-footing.
Bus Éireann said it accepted the invitation to "facilitate meaningful discussions" but warned that its financial situation remains critical.
Talks will begin on Monday.