All-out transport strike 'inevitable' if Expressway plan goes ahead
Widespread industrial action across the public transport network is "inevitable" unless Bus Éireann backs away from plans to separate the Expressway service from the rest of the company.
Unions have warned that a "doomsday scenario" is developing at the company that would see "unilateral changes" to the terms and conditions of staff.
Bus Éireann has indicated that it wants to separate Expressway from the rest of the company, reduce the number of staff and introduce pay cuts.
Compulsory redundancies have not been ruled out and unions are balloting for industrial action over the issue.
In an address to the Oireachtas Transport Committee, the National Bus and Railworkers' Union (NBRU) warned that politicians cannot "wash their hands of the problems at Bus Éireann".
"This situation, if allowed to develop unchecked, will inevitably lead to industrial action, potentially across the public transport sector," NBRU general secretary Dermot O'Leary said.
"The notion that unionised workers in the CIÉ Group of companies would stand idly by and allow one of those companies to ride roughshod over fellow workers by unilaterally reducing terms and conditions is simply untenable."
Mr O'Leary claimed the Government appeared "determined to pursue a policy which will inevitably lead to conflict".
He also described the National Transport Authority as "the HSE on wheels".
Mr O'Leary said Bus Éireann stayed in towns and villages during the recession while competitors targeted larger population centres, but this was under threat.
"Rural Ireland has a way of making the dog bark, it's called election time," Mr O'Leary said.
Siptu's Willie Noone called for the Department of Transport to divert more money into public transport. "The economy has started to grow again after years of recession and we believe a properly funded and resourced public transport system has the potential to be a spur for sustainable economic growth.
"However, public transport in Ireland is at a crossroads, having suffered from both chronic underfunding and a decrease in passenger numbers during the economic crash," Mr Noone said.
He said the proposed changes to the Expressway service would "see services lost in many rural areas that are not served adequately or at all by other transport providers".
He added that hundreds of jobs were in the balance.
Unite's Michael Taft told the committee that Ireland fared badly when compared with other EU countries in terms of subvention. CIÉ's subvention from the State was reduced from €321m in 2008 to €189m in 2015, a reduction of 41pc. Payroll costs were reduced by 12.6pc.
"This results in poorer services and higher fares, which drive up traffic congestion.
"We need new policies and a new vision for transportation in Dublin and throughout the country - and this will require investment and subventions to match it," he said.
The committee also heard from Professor of Transport Economics at UCD Aisling Reynolds-Feighan, who warned that rail services faced an uncertain future without more public funding. "Given the dispersed and low-density nature of the population distribution in this country, and the relatively short distances for inter-regional travel, it is difficult for rail transport to be commercially viable," she said.