Sunday 4 December 2016

Ross 'did not object' to Bus Éireann pay and job cuts

Anne-Marie Walsh

Published 24/09/2016 | 02:30

Commuters queue for a packed Luas service. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Commuters queue for a packed Luas service. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Transport Minister Shane Ross made "no objection" to plans for restructuring the loss-making Bus Éireann Expressway service, sources claim.

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But the minister last night insisted that he had not agreed to any "detailed plan" for restructuring and redundancies at Bus Éireann.

Sources said that the minister had a detailed briefing with management, including chief executive Martin Nolan, over a proposed Expressway survival plan.

It was claimed that Mr Ross raised no objections to the plan, which involves redundancies, cutting pay and conditions, and sub-contract routes to make €7m savings.

And it was suggested that the minister received a far more detailed briefing on proposals to turn the loss-making service into a subsidiary company than was given to the unions.

Unions have accused Bus Éireann of dropping an "industrial relations bombshell" with the announcement of the plan and are balloting their members for industrial action.

Daniel O’Farrell uses a skateboard to make his way from Heuston Station yesterday. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Daniel O’Farrell uses a skateboard to make his way from Heuston Station yesterday. Photo: Steve Humphreys

However, last night a spokesperson for Mr Ross said that he had been meeting the heads of various State bodies in his area, including Bus Éireann.

"A number of issues were discussed, including an outline for the future of the company and the need to find a reasonable way forward from its present loss-making position.

"The minister was aware that the company is at an advanced stage in preparing a full plan, which he expects to be submitted to him shortly.

"The meeting did not discuss any detailed plan and at no stage did the minister convey any agreement whatsoever."

Frustrated commuters Gemma Lawlor and Arlene Foy, both from Portarlington, wait for a Luas. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Frustrated commuters Gemma Lawlor and Arlene Foy, both from Portarlington, wait for a Luas. Photo: Steve Humphreys

The Transport Minister is already in the spotlight over his response to the ongoing strikes at Dublin Bus.

This week, Mr Ross stressed that he would not be "a sugar daddy on a white horse with a cheque book" to resolve the dispute, which will involve no buses on a Saturday for the first time today.

Sources also revealed that Bus Éireann wants to reduce the number of full-time positions at Expressway by up to 150 and is not ruling out compulsory redundancies as it faces losses of €6m this year.

Mandatory redundancies are likely to be considered if enough staff do not opt to exit under a voluntary redundancy plan.

A busy N7 yesterday evening. Photo: Collins
A busy N7 yesterday evening. Photo: Collins

Under its plan to achieve €7m savings, the company wants to reduce the number of full-time positions at Expressway from 550 to between 400 and 450.

It said the €7m cuts being sought under the plan could be achieved in a number of areas and management is open to negotiation on how the target will be achieved.

However, staffing is the biggest cost.

Management has drawn up a menu of options on staffing cuts that it wants to present to unions at talks.

Currently, Expressway employees enjoy the same terms and conditions as workers in the company's public service obligation routes, and are full-time staff.

Transport Minister Shane Ross
Transport Minister Shane Ross

Some private operators, in contrast, do not have full-time staff, and pay daily and hourly rates, while some do not pay pensions.

The Bus Éireann board meets in six weeks to finalise its budget for next year and it is hoped that significant headway will have been made in negotiations on the restructuring plan as the subcontracting of routes alone could take some time to complete.

The Expressway business is haemorrhaging cash and Bus Éireann is unable to fund the cost of servicing routes.

The NBRU said the restructuring plan will threaten the livelihoods of 800 workers,

The union has already balloted for industrial action if any cuts at Expressway are imposed.

And Bus Éireann workers have lodged a claim for a pay rise, which has been referred to the Labour Court.

Irish Independent

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