What action is being taken by bus drivers and why
What's happening with the buses?
Bus drivers have threatened to take industrial action over seven days this month, beginning today and tomorrow. Other strike days are planned for May 15 and 16, followed by three days on May 29, 30 and 31. The move will affect hundreds of thousands of customers of Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus, and will cause chaos over one of the year's busiest travelling weekends.
Why is action being taken?
The National Transport Authority is opening up 10pc of all state-funded routes to competition. Waterford city bus services, commuter routes into Dublin and some Dublin Bus services will be tendered out, with contracts to be awarded next April. The routes can be won by the incumbents, Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus, or by private operators.
Why does this pose a problem?
Unions fear it's the beginning of privatisation. They maintain that in 2019, when the contracts with Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann expire, more routes will go to the market, which will result in job losses. They are also concerned about pension entitlements and terms for drivers who transfer to the new operators.
What does the NTA and Department of Transport say?
The NTA says there will be no change in drivers' terms and conditions, and insists the routes are not being privatised, but opened to the market. Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe has also said there would be no requirement for drivers to switch operators, meaning there is no basis for industrial action. Drivers on affected routes can be transferred to other services, as growth in passenger numbers is expected in the near-term.
So why were all sides called into the Labour Relations Commission?
Because the unions aren't assured. They insist there's a range of issues to be addressed, in particular the question about what happens to routes after 2019.
Are the private sector happy?
Not overly. They're concerned that very few companies will have the financial turnover to bid for licences, meaning most will be excluded. But they say that it is good news for passengers because competition invariably results in improvements to services.
Given all the fuss, why is the NTA persisting?
It says that a competitive market will lead to savings, perhaps as much as 10pc. This equates to around €6.5m. If these kind of savings are realised, it gives it some clout when awarding further bus contracts because it can demonstrate that better value can be achieved.
So what happens to passengers?
They must make alternative arrangements. Their difficulties are compounded by the fact that engineering works are taking place across the rail network, meaning there will be a reduction in services. A 4pc hike in taxi fares, which took effect from yesterday, won't help improve their mood.