Bus Éireann 'might pull routes' to save cash as unions look to 'nuclear option'
Bus Éireann may pull out of some loss-making Expressway services in an effort to cut costs and avoid going out of business.
A briefing note prepared by the National Transport Authority (NTA) says it "anticipates" that the semi-state transport company will seek amendments to a "significant number" of licences. It could include reducing the number of stops in other cases.
The NTA, which is responsible for all publicly funded bus services and issuing licences to the commercial sector, says it is putting in place contingency plans for passengers on affected routes. It is not predicting the outcome of talks between management and unions at the company, but merely planning for a worst-case scenario, it said.
It comes as the five trade unions representing staff issued a statement calling on Transport Minister Shane Ross to intervene in the dispute. Unite, the NBRU, Siptu, TEEU and TSSA asked the minister to "provide leadership and do the right thing by commuters and staff by facilitating a forum".
They said that if Bus Éireann imposed unilateral cuts they would "respond accordingly", and threatened an all-out strike.
Siptu's Willie Noone said they were going to look at a range of options, and that all-out strike action had been "very strongly" put to them by union members.
"It would be the nuclear option as far as we're concerned, but at times you have to fight fire with fire. The company has thrown a nuclear bomb into our conditions of employment and if that's the mandate that we get from the members that's the one we'll follow," he said.
Bus Éireann said it was seeking to engage with unions, adding that Expressway would remain part of the company's business.
However, changes were "urgently required" to address the company's adverse financial situation, with losses of €9m projected for 2016, which could result in alterations to routes.
Company management has warned it could go out of business by the end of the year with the loss of 2,600 jobs, but the Department of Transport said the minister would not intervene in an industrial relations dispute.
However, there is a reluctance to shut down all services as unions are aware it would severely impact passengers, particularly in rural areas. The unions have not set a date for their next meeting, but will react to decisions made by the company. Bus Éireann was not available for comment last night.
The NTA note also suggests that Bus Éireann may also seek changes to its licences in an attempt to grow passenger numbers. Permission may be sought to extend some Expressway routes to key locations including airports and business parks, increasing frequency and adding extra weekend or evening services. It may also seek joint-venture partnerships with commercial operators.
If Bus Éireann withdraws from some routes, the NTA said it could amend existing contracts or seek firms to operate the routes to ensure a service remained in place.