Bus Éireann chief executive Ray Hernan has upped the ante on the fate of the company by warning it could go out of business with the loss of 2,600 jobs.
But the threat of an all-out strike at the bus service is set to deepen today as unions prepare to snub an invitation to talks from Mr Hernan.
Mr Hernan invited the five unions representing workers to discussions at Broadstone in Dublin this morning to discuss cuts to shift and premium payments and allowances, as well as changed work practices and job losses.
The cuts would be coupled with a pay rise of between 1pc and 3pc to try to prevent the company going bust in 18 months.
But unions, including the Nbru, Siptu and Unite, which represent most of the 2,600-strong workforce at the troubled semi-state company, said they would not show up.
They said the cuts amounted to a reduction of up to 30pc in earnings.
However, the Bus Éireann CEO said the company's financial situation was "critical".
"This is not scaremongering: this is the stark reality of what this organisation now faces," he said.
Mr Hernan made the warning in his submission to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, which he will address tomorrow.
Last week, Mr Hernan wrote to staff asking them to accept a variety of cuts as the company confirmed €8m in losses last year.
They include flexible redeployment of staff, setting up a new pool of casual drivers and contractors, job losses, and a ban on increments for clerical staff whose pay is "way out of line with the market".
However, unions plan to meet on Thursday to discuss a joint strategy if they are called to act on their members' mandate for industrial action given in ballots last year if the company imposes cuts.
Dermot O'Leary, general secretary of the Nbru, has written to Mr Hernan warning the union will consult its union colleagues "to agree on a co-ordinated and united response" if the changes are enforced.
He said the Nbru had an overwhelming mandate for industrial action, up to and including an all-out strike if cuts were imposed.
"The Nbru will not be attending the meeting," he said. "To do so would be a tacit acceptance that it is morally OK to raid transport workers' moderate pay to bail out the flawed transport policy being pursued by Minister Shane Ross's department".
He said the unilateral imposition of cuts would be "met by a pan-trade union response which will undoubtedly result in major disruption on the State's transport infrastructure".
"Betting on the roulette ball to land on the 'workers are to blame' slot may not be as easy as some of those cosseted mandarins may like to think," he added.
Acting CEO of Bus Éireann has moved to reassure staff and customers that the Expressway service will continue but said the company is facing insolvency in 18 months without major changes.