Tuesday 27 September 2016

Dublin Bus issues must be resolved

Published 11/09/2016 | 02:30

Photo: Laura Hutton/Collins Photo Agency
Photo: Laura Hutton/Collins Photo Agency

After two days of strike action, and the threat of a further four to come over the next two weeks, the industrial dispute at Dublin Bus at this stage seems no closer to resolution. It will have to be resolved eventually - but not before further severe disruption to the travel plans of hundreds of thousands of public transport users in the capital city.

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It is to be strongly urged that both Dublin Bus management and the various transport unions involved resume negotiations quickly to imaginatively bridge the gap that currently exists between both sides and bring certainty to the travel plans of the many customers of the company.

After 13 months of negotiations at the Workplace Relations Commission followed by a recommendation by the Labour Court, the unions have rejected a significant pay increase offer of 8.25pc (over three years) for all employees.

For its part, Dublin Bus remains available for talks but has advised that any pay increase over and above the 8.25pc recommended by the Labour Court must be done on the basis of productivity. For their part, the unions are seeking pay increases of 15pc over three years as well as payment of a 6pc rise dating back to a national wage deal in 2008. The National Bus and Rail Union is also seeking pay parity with Luas drivers, which would involve increases of up to 31pc.

According to the unions, the dispute has its roots in "persistent underfunding" of Dublin Bus by successive governments. That may indeed be the case. While Dublin Bus provides a vital public service, the unions say, it has one of the lowest levels of State support for public transport in the European Union. In Dublin, according to the unions, the public subvention makes up 20pc of public transport revenue, compared with more than 50pc in many other European cities. The unions do not provide comparative wage rates, however.

There is no doubt that Dublin Bus has had its State funding significantly cut in recent years, but the case being made by the unions gives rise to a legitimate question: is this dispute primarily about a reduced level of State subvention or about double-digit percentage wage increases first and foremost? To put it another way, if the State subvention were to be increased to improve transport services in general rather than the wages of drivers, would the unions be satisfied, or is it that they are decrying "underfunding" of transport services as a means to secure substantial wage increases ahead of better services for users. The productivity issue is key in this debate.

The Transport Minister Shane Ross, meanwhile, has steadfastly refused to directly involve himself in the dispute, as have all transport ministers in similar disputes in recent years. That is as it should be. There are mechanisms in place to resolve industrial disputes and those mechanisms must be followed. However, the minister should continue to use his good offices to encourage both sides to come together to bring an end to this damaging dispute, as no doubt the Department of Transport is doing behind the scenes. Dublin Bus, meanwhile, is open to talks to improve upon the not insignificant Labour Court recommendation, with the proviso that further productivity measures be agreed. As the unions must accept, such agreed productivity would surely improve transport services for all users, which is, after all, one of its stated aims. The ball is in the court of the transport unions.

Sunday Independent

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