independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Bus strike suspended as parties agree to negotiation

BUS Eireann services will operate again today as unions agreed to suspend strike action for 48 hours, after late night talks at the Labour Relations Commission.

The company had been left hamstrung since Sunday morning, with tens of thousands of passengers stranded or inconvenienced by the stoppage.

The dispute between the National Bus and Rail Union centred on a ¿5m cost-cutting plan which included slashing allowances, overtime and shift payments.

The strike action was hitting as many as 70,000 passengers and costing the strugging state-owned transport company ¿200,000 a day.

But buses are expected to run as usual today and tomorrow, as more talks involving the NBRU, SIPTU and management get under way.

Bus Eireann spokesman Andrew McLindon said the firm would not put the cost-saving plan in place as the negotiations got underway.

"We welcome the fact for the sake of our customers that we would get back into service as quickly as we can," Mr McLindon said. "We hope to operate as many city, commuter, inter-city and provincial services as we can from early in the morning."

Customers are advised to check www.buseireann.ie and national and local media for latest updates on the operation of services. Bus Eireann management said "intense" discussions would take place over the coming two days to try get agreement on the cost-savings laid out in the Labour Court recommendations.

"It is absolutely critical for the future of the company that the savings are achieved," Mr McLindon said.

Public Transport Minister, Alan Kelly, welcomed the breakthrough. "We would all like to see services resume as quickly as possible and that the 48 hour window that has been created as a result of discussion can yield a longer-term solution. This has been and continues to be a very difficult dispute for all sides,"he said.

"The coming days can be used to make sure the company remains viable."

Bus Eireann is seeking a 20pc cut to a range of allowance and expense payments, a reduction of overtime rates, longer working hours and a cut in shift payments. It maintains the measures, which have already been recommended by the Labour Court, are vital for the survival of the company and security of 2,500 jobs.

The Government has also warned the bus firm lost ¿27m over the past five years and would not be financially viable if it does not impose cuts.

Michael Faherty, general secretary of the NBRU, said they had moved to suspend the strike as the company agreed to sit down with the trade unions last night.

"We had been looking for that for the last three or four days," he said.

The Bus Eireann strike had caused widespread disruption with Expressway, rural routes and city bus services all affected. School transport services were not hit.

Irish Rural Link said the strike was causing "undue annoyance", especially for students and people going to work.

The strike had a greater impact because SIPTU members refused to cross the picket lines of the striking NBRU workers.

SIPTU's transport organiser Willie Noone said there was a "short timeframe" to make progress as their members are being balloted for potential strike action on Thursday.

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