Monday 23 October 2017

Bus Éireann reveals details of three routes it has considered closing

Acting Chief Executive Ray Hernan has warned that the bus company could go bust within 11 months (Stock picture)
Acting Chief Executive Ray Hernan has warned that the bus company could go bust within 11 months (Stock picture)

Anne-Marie Walsh

Talks to halt an all-out strike at Bus Eireann are under threat after the company sent a document to staff detailing €30m cuts – including three routes that may be axed – in a document today.

The document says that the X7 Dublin to Clonmel route, which was changed from Cork to Dublin to Clonmel to Dublin in June 2015, has continued to be loss-making. 

It also says the 021 Athlone to Westport route has made losses for the last number of years and no timetable changes can be implemented to improve its performance. 

In addition, it says the 833 Dublin Derry route has been loss making for the last number of years with no signs of improvement. "Management recommend closing this route," the document says. 

It says the closure of the routes would save €1.1m, although it said there are not plans "at present" to close any routes. 

The 'discussion document' says the company is going out of business and will be insolvent before the end of this year.

It lists a number of measures to save €30m, which it says are needed for the loss within Expressway to be eliminated and generate a profit so it can reinvest in approximately 10 new vehicles for the fleet each year.

The document says the current estimate is that there was a €9.4m operating loss last year, while losses for January this year are already in excess of €1.5m.

It says the title of 'inspector" will be eliminated and a new role introduced to cover managerial and decision making needs, with fewer jobs available. 

The document says that there are currently 60 managerial, 58, executives and 220 clerical staff employed and the numbers and cost of these are "materially out of line" for a company its size. 

It says it is expected there will be significant reductions "in all categories" but the job losses will take place over a period of time when funds are available. 

It says that drivers' basic pay of approximately €32,000 a year is not out of line with industry averages. However, it says their total earnings are high, with average earnings last year at €47,000. 

It said a "significant number" earn over €60,000. 

The letter also says there is "significant scope" for savings through productivity measures in a number of areas, including overtime, scheduling and rostering of drivers, including the 'spare driver' structure, absenteeism, premium payments, bonuses and expenses and flexibility. 

The document was sent with a letter from Acting Chief Executive Ray Hernan which said "productivity and efficiencies" are not where they need to be for Bus Éireann to remain a viable and competitive entity. 

The letter, sent as talks resume at the Workplace Relations Commission to avert an all-out strike, says the company wants to reach agreement with representatives of the 2,600-strong workforce. 

"This will not be easy but we must all agree a way forward that deals with the immediate financial crisis and creates a sustainable future for us all," he said.

SIPTU and the National Bus and Railworkers' Union reacted angrily to the document and said it is putting talks underway at the Workplace Relations Commission to avert an all-out strike under threat.

Siptu accused the company of seeming to be intent on collapsing talks at the Workplace Relations Commission following the release of the document prior to talks.

Sector Organiser Willie Noone said Bus Éireann had released a provocative discussion document to all staff in the middle of a negotiation aimed at avoiding industrial action.

He said the company accepted last Friday that the union would not agree with workers' pay and conditions being "driven down to the floor".

The NBRU said the company is determined to provoke staff by issuing an incendiary document in advance of talks.

General Secretary Dermot O'Leary said it was playing "Russian Roulette" with staff and the public transport system "by deliberately provoking staff into bringing the entire transport system to a halt".

"It is now a matter for the WRC to enquire of Bus Éireann if they are actually serious about resolving the Éxpressway crisis, or is it a case as we have suspected that the company is determined to force its own workforce onto the streets to facilitate its desire to go as low as some of its competitors in how they wish to treat workers," he said.

Earlier, the union threatened to make a "rapid exit" from the talks if the company did not drop cost-cutting proposals it had already outlined.

In a notice to members today, the NBRU said it will not continue at discussions if the company continues to pursue an agenda of "becoming a mirror of those private operators that treat their staff abysmally".  

The union warned that its members across the CIE Group have "demonstrated their desire to support their colleagues" and said it was fully prepared to engage in an all-out strike to defend its members' terms and conditions.  

Its notice was sent as it joins the other four unions at the bus company for what it predicted would be "difficult discussions" at the Workplace Relations Commission today. 

The unions agreed to suspend a threatened indefinite all-out strike and the company agreed to defer the implementation of €12m cuts to earnings, including the abolition of shift payments and cuts to allowances, from today to attend the talks.  

Acting Chief Executive Ray Hernan has warned that the bus company could go bust within 11 months and he wants to table a final survival plan to the board next month.  

The NBRU leadership said at first they had difficulty understanding the "bombshell" figure of €30m that Mr Hernan had come up with over the last number of weeks.  

"The NBRU have made it abundantly clear to Mr Hernan and Co that we will not allow him to move Bus Éireann to becoming a mirror of those private operators that treat their staff abysmally. In fact, we were stronger in our choice of language in stating that we found the notion that such a move was nothing short of contemptible.  

"The figure of €30m, we now know was designed to achieve that very thing."  

It said it had advised the Workplace Relations Commission that if the company were to persist with this agenda come Monday, it would be making a rapid exit from the discussions.  

In its notice, the NBRU said unions had achieved success in having outstanding issues dealt with.  

This included a Labour Court recommendation they said the company had not implemented by failing to pay a portion of an income continuance premium that had been paid by staff.  

The NBRU said Bus Éireann had agreed to pay this in full, and will give the date of payment today.  

In addition, it said the company is due to respond to their request that overtime agreements be restored to what they were prior to January 16 when a ban on overtime was imposed.  

"The NBRU remains in dispute mode," it said. "We are fully prepared to engage in an all-out strike to defend the hard won terms and conditions of bus workers."  

The union said it was more than aware of "what happened" to Irish Ferries workers while the waste industry, which its said at one time was a hotbed of union activism, had been "decimated" through "despicable" attacks on terms and conditions.  

It called on its members to support Tesco workers it said are being "treated abominably" by their employer by not spending their cash at its stores.  

"It is surely only a matter of time when the whole of the trade union movement will react in unison against both rogue employers and those who would seek to be aligned to such disgusting anti-worker behaviour," it said.  

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