Tuesday 26 September 2017

Chaos looms as last-gasp Bus Éireann pay talks hit a brick wall

Stark warning: Ray Hernan said losses last month at Bus Éireann were €1.5m. Photo: Tom Burke
Stark warning: Ray Hernan said losses last month at Bus Éireann were €1.5m. Photo: Tom Burke

Anne-Marie Walsh

More than 110,000 Bus Éireann passengers a day face travel chaos after last-ditch talks to avert an all-out strike collapsed.

Unions said they had put their members on notice that they would immediately engage in industrial action if the company imposed €12m cuts to their earnings.

The plans include a 10pc cut to allowances and the axing of premium payments.

Acting chief executive Ray Hernan confirmed that the Dublin-Clonmel, Athlone-Westport and Dublin-Derry routes would be axed to make immediate savings of €1.1m.

"We now have to implement that decision," he said. "We have no choice but to do that and make other decisions that are ultimately going to save money and stop the burn of cash that is running at an increasing rate since the end of the year."

He said the company would have to seriously consider its position and take steps to avoid insolvency. The company is expected to announce its next move within days.

Dermot O'Leary. Photo: Tom Burke
Dermot O'Leary. Photo: Tom Burke

Mr Hernan said losses last month were €1.5m and if that rate continued, the organisation would go out of business some time in May.

Closure

He said unions refused to engage in talks on cuts to any terms and conditions of employment, but the company could not see how it would avoid insolvency without them being considered.

He urged unions to reconsider their position to maximise the amount of jobs that would be available "going forward".

"What we need is immediate savings and we have already identified savings that will be achieved by the closure of a number of routes," said Mr Hernan. "We've also identified a reasonable number of non-payroll savings. However, there was going to have to be pain taken by our staff."

Mr Hernan wants to present a €30m cost-cutting plan to the board by the end of March.

In a statement, Bus Éireann said unions had refused to negotiate changes to terms and conditions, insisted on a pay rise and sought compensation for cuts in overtime earnings implemented since last month.

Read more: Bus Éireann reject claims of intention to ask Transport Minister 'for cash'

It said its cost structure was inefficient and drivers were being paid for 9.4 hours a day, with 1.6 hours of this at overtime premium rates. But it said they only drive for five-and-a-half hours on scheduled services.

The company said the taxpayer was paying excessively for the services provided. It said payroll savings of €12m must be achieved now.

Speaking as he emerged from the Workplace Relations Commission, the general secretary of the National Bus and Railworkers Union Dermot O'Leary warned that all the CIÉ companies may now face disruption if cuts were imposed without agreement.

"If they do and all union colleagues are at one in this, there will be an all-out bus strike and there will be ramifications and consequences across the entire transport network," he said.

He said those in government needed to be more concerned with the dispute rather than occupying themselves with the leadership of Fine Gael.

Mr O'Leary said the dispute was going to cause untold misery for people who needed the transport system and those working in the industry.

Siptu divisional organiser Greg Ennis said the union would not accept that its members would subvent a company that needed proper subvention.

"That's what collapsed the talks," he said. He claimed the Government was "rudderless" in terms of its transport policy.

Irish Independent

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