Saturday 22 July 2017

Talks between Bus Eireann management and unions collapse

Dublin- Clonmel, Athlone-Westport and Dublin-Derry routes will be axed to achieve immediate savings of €1.1m

It is expected there will be significant reductions 'in all categories' of staff but the job losses will take place over a period of time when funds are available. Stock Image
It is expected there will be significant reductions 'in all categories' of staff but the job losses will take place over a period of time when funds are available. Stock Image

Anne-Marie Walsh

BUS Eireann passengers face travel chaos after last ditch talks to avert an all-out strike collapsed.

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

The company has said the Dublin- Clonmel, Athlone-Westport and Dublin-Derry routes will be axed to achieve immediate savings of €1.1m

Speaking as he emerged from the Workplace Relations Commission, the General Secretary of the National Bus and Railworkers Union, Dermot O'Leary, said the company is expected to announce it will implement the cuts within days.

It is understood that Bus Eireann negotiators claimed the company would be insolvent by May unless the cuts are rolled out.

Acting Chief Executive Ray Hernan wants to present a €30m cost-cutting plan to the board by the end of March.

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

General Secretary of the NBRU Dermot O’Leary said said it is anticipated that the company will make an announcement in relation to the cuts over the next few days.

"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.

"And unless the people in government, instead of occupying themselves with the leadership of Fine Gael, they really need to get engage with this dispute."

He said the dispute is going to cause untold misery for people who travel and who need the transport system and misery for those working in the industry.

Mr O'Leary blamed Bus Eireann for collapsing the discussions and said it was a crying shame that a semi state company "would stoop to such depths"by insisting on cutting their employees' wages by €8,000 or €9,000, "race to the bottom style". He said it was obvious that someone behind the scenes is "pulling the strings".

"And we're pointing our fingers quite directly at the Department of Transport and the minister," he said.

Siptu Divisional Organiser, Greg Ennis, said an unreasonable demand that no worker in the state should have to put up or had put up with before led to the collapse of talks.

He said unions could not "magic up" €12m payroll savings overnight.

"This is a crisis in the making for a couple of years," he said. "We cannot fix it in three days."

He said the union would not accept that its members would subvent a company that needs proper subvention.

"That's what collapsed the talks," he said. Mr Ennis said the government is "rudderless" in terms of its transport policy.

Bus Eireann's Acting Chief Executuive Ray Hernan  has confirmed that three routes - Dublin- Clonmel, Athlone-Westport and Dublin-Derry will be axed to achieve 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 will now have to seriously consider its position and take steps to avoid insolvency.

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

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,"he said. "We've also identified a reasonable number of non-payroll savings. However, there was going to have to be pain taken by our staff."

In a statement, Bus Eireann 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.

It said its cost structure is inefficient and drivers are 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 is paying excessively for the services provided and it is clear that unions have no intention of reaching an agreement to address the financial crisis.

It said payroll savings of €12m must be achieved now.

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