Monday 21 August 2017

Labour Court will not intervene in Bus Eireann industrial dispute

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)

Anne-Marie Walsh Industry Correspondent

The threat of industrial action at Bus Eireann loomed larger on Tuesday night after a company attempt to get the Labour Court to intervene in a dispute over a drastic survival plan was ruled out.

The company faces the possibility of insolvency by the middle of next year, with the loss of 2,600 jobs.

Leaving a meeting at the court, unions said the court confirmed it would not reinvigorate a process begun last month after unions lodged a claim for a pay rise.

They said the court has no role in the current dispute over cuts as talks had not been held at the Workplace Relations Commission, which would be normal procedure.

They accused the company of trying to circumvent the normal industrial relations process by going directly to the court in a bid to fast track its cost cutting plan.

The Nbru and Siptu said they said they will not engage in talks until the company withdraws its cost cutting plan.

Unions have threatened an all-out strike if management imposes a drastic survival plan they claim would slash earnings by up to 30pc.

The National Bus and Railworkers Union and Siptu yesterday accepted an invitation from the court to attend a meeting.

The Nbru said it accepted the invitation to meet to "provide some clarity on some of the conjecture surrounding the status of this dispute".

The move comes after the company sought the court's help to avoid an all out strike after unveiling details of its cost-cutting plan.

It said it was a "very regrettable situation" that unions had not turned up for a meeting they were invited to at Broadstone in Dublin yesterday to discuss cuts. 

Unions including the Nbru and Siptu have refused to negotiate cuts recently revealed by Mr Hernan.

Read more: Bus Eireann looks to Labour Court to avoid all out strike

"We require leadership from all sides to ensure meaningful discussions can commence," said the company in its statement. 

"We are dedicated to securing the future of Bus Éireann as a premium employer and we have requested a meeting with all staff unions to discuss proposals which would restore our finances and protect the maximum number of jobs."

It said unions have refused to meet the company or failed to confirm acceptance of the invitation.

The company said some have "stated outrightly" that they will not engage with the company on improved efficiencies and cost saving proposals.

General Secretary of the Nbru, Dermot O'Leary, accused Bus Eireann of attempting to play footloose and fancy free with the industrial relations institutions of the state.

“For Bus Éireann to call for leadership from all sides to ensure meaningful discussions can commence is as pitiful as it is insulting," he said.

He accused the ‘new management’ of providing cover for their "paymasters" at both CIE group and department level. 

Mr Hernan recently revealed that cuts would include the axing of shift payments, reductions in Sunday premiums, and cuts in allowances. 

Redundancies are also expected and the company has not ruled out compulsory job losses. 

Mr Hernan has said that management and support grades will be "streamlined" and clerical staff are overpaid. 

The company said the court had accepted it could not deal with a pay claim last month until it had produced a more detailed plan. 

It said it had now given these details to unions in an attempt to deal with the wage claim in the context of the "urgent financial crisis" it faces. 

"Bus Éireann wrote to all unions on January 16 outlining the actions, which we believe are required to deal with the immediate risk of insolvency while ensuring future competitiveness and sustainability," said today's statement. 

"Bus Éireann has a viable future and can successfully compete but only if we make the necessary changes." 

Meanwhile, Acting Chief Executive Ray Hernan is expected to tell a Dail committee today that all 2,600 jobs are at risk because the company faces insolvency in 18 months.

He will tell the committee that his management team will be working hard over the next few weeks to put a figure on the number of staff and "most efficient structures" needed to provide services.

He will say that improving staff rosters and using the fleet better will be the foundation of a more efficient business that can compete aggressively for contracts.

He will say that Expressway is restricted from getting state aid, as it would be in breach of EU law for it to do so.

He said an increase in free travel subventions will not fix Expressway.

Mr Hernan will say that his management team is not "bluntly targeting staff" to fix the company's financial problems.

In his statement, he says his undertaking to staff is to safeguard basic pay and protect the maximum number of "viable" jobs.

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