Bus Eireann accused of dropping industrial relations 'bombshell'
The largest union at Bus Eireann is set to ballot its members for industrial action over management plans to turn Expressway into a “low wage bus service”.
The National Bus and Railworkers Union accused the company of dropping an industrial relations bombshell today by revealing proposals that “threaten the livelihoods of 800 workers”.
Members of the union had already balloted in favour of industrial action if cuts were imposed, but the threat of strikes has grown after the union announced a new ballot after the details of the plan were revealed.
Bus Eireann said it plans to turn the Expressway service into a new business entity and implement new terms and conditions for staff.
And a letter from Chief Executive Martin Nolan ruled out pay rises.
He said the company’s finances are in a critical position, with losses of €6m expected this year.
General Secretary of the Nbru, Dermot O’Leary, warned that the union “will not tolerate” the imposition of a low wage bus transport service as a solution to problems that resulted from department policy.
“The current Dublin Bus dispute and this crisis at Bus Éireann are not unconnected,” he said.
“There are huge question marks over the Department of Transport and its stewardship of the state-owned public transport services.”
He accused it of cutting off vital financial support and overseeing a licencing regime that has led to the potential decimation of the Expressway service that “connects every nook and cranny in rural Ireland.
“It is now time for politicians from across all parties and none to step up to the plate on behalf of the communities they purport to represent,” he said.
“The Irish electorate can be extremely unforgiving to those they elect who fail to protect vital social services.”
Staff were informed of the proposals in a letter from the Chief Executive yesterday as their unions attended talks in pursuit of a pay rise at the Workplace Relations Commission.
“After eight years of pay stagnation, the company not alone indicated that it would not be in a position to contemplate any pay rises but also dropped an Industrial relations bombshell in relation to the future of the Expressway service” he said.
In a letter sent to staff today, Martin Nolan says that new terms and conditions will be implemented for staff in Expressway, and routes will be sub-contracted.
He warns that the company is in a “very serious and difficult situation and has drawn up a survival plan that is the "only course" open to it.
The CEO said management are due to meet unions at the Workplace Relations Commission this morning to discuss a claim for a pay rise lodged on behalf of staff.
But he said the trading position of the company dictates that no payroll increases can be contemplated at this time.
“The company finances are in a critical position with losses of €5.6m in 2015 and projected losses of €6m in 2016,” he said. “A minimum turnaround of €7m is required.”
He said the board and management of Bus Éireann are faced with very difficult decisions and have drawn up a plan to address the severe financial difficulties.
“Whilst both the schools and public service obligation businesses are performing satisfactorily, the Expressway business – despite extensive promotion and development – is continuing to lose money,” he said.
He said there were a number of factors contributing to this including increased competition from low cost operators and increased costs including claims and staffing costs. He said the motorway network is “facilitating new business models” for competitors.
Mr Nolan noted that a pay cut in 2014, which led to a return to profitability, had been reversed last year.
He said the structural changes required would involve separating Expressway from the rest of the business and implementing new terms and conditions for staff.
In addition, a a number of routes will be sub-contracted although all routes that are currently operated will continue to do so.
He said a new management and support structure will be implemented for the Expressway business.
“Other efficiency measures may be required across the entire business,” he said. “Regulatory issues and market conditions would indicate that the company will need to restructure as it moves into the future.”
He said staff will be consulted on these measures with a view to gaining agreement.
“In light of the above it should be clear that the overall trading position of the company dictates that no payroll increases can be contemplated at this time,” he said..
“I would urge staff representatives to engage meaningfully with the company to agree an implementation plan for the Expressway business and seek to return the company to stability so that the reasonable expectations of staff can be met in the future.
“The commercial plan is designed to ensure Bus Éireann’s future stability under a sustainable financial model and give protection to services for customers as well as providing longer term sustainable employment for staff. The Board and Management of Bus Éireann believe that this action, although very difficult, is the only course open for the company.”