Tuesday 21 May 2019

Bus firms to seek damages from unions after talks to avert strike action broke down

Commuter traffic
Commuter traffic

Emma Jane Hade and Sarah Stack

A nationwide 48 hour bus strike will begin at midnight after last ditch talks to avert the action broke down.

Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus plan to take legal action to recoup the costs of the two-day bus strike, which will affect hundreds of thousands of passengers from midnight.

Both companies have confirmed they will make an emergency application to the High Court tomorrow to recover any financial loss, which is estimated to run into millions.

The Labour Relations Commission (LRC) had summoned management of Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann and the unions to exploratory talks this afternoon.

It was hoped the move would be a breakthrough as strike action by union members at the two companies looms.

Read more here: Bus strike: Management of Bus Eireann & Dublin Bus and unions summoned to Labour Relations Commission

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe  and Bus Eireann management said they are extremely disappointed the industrial action will go ahead.

However bus drivers at the two companies will go on strike tomorrow and Saturday.

Paddy Doherty, chief executive of Dublin Bus, maintained the strike action is totally illegal.

“The trade unions have chosen to walk away from the talks process which was set up to address their issues and the company now faces no option but to indicate legal proceedings against both trade unions in order to recoup the substantial damages that we will face as a result of this illegal action," he told RTE News.

Martin Nolan, chief executive of Bus Eireann, said hundreds of thousands of customers are not going to have transport tomorrow.

“The May Bank Holiday weekend is one of our busiest weekends of the year,” he said.

Bus strike looms
Bus strike looms

“Years of good work, both financial and reputational, is being undone by this action and it’s unnecessary.

“We will be going to the High Court tomorrow seeking damaged from the unions.”

Dermot O’Leary from the National Bus and Rail Union earlier told Independent.ie that during the talks, which last just several hours, they heard nothing that “would have encouraged us in anyway that a process of a solution could be found to prevent this going ahead”.

“There is nothing substantial there for us. They were exploratory talks,” Mr O’Leary said.

“Obviously, we heard nothing inside of that room that would have encouraged us towards a direction that any negotiations would deliver a result and therefore preventing us from calling off the strike.”

Owen Reidy from Siptu said that the talks included both of the unions and the two companies involved.

“There was nothing new from the employers,” he said.

“There was nothing substantive for us to go back to people to say there is something here to call it off. 

“It is unfortunate but the employers didn’t take the opportunity to seize the initiative it seems, so it is going to go ahead.”

Bus lanes will remain closed to regular commuters struggling to make their way to work tomorrow as the 48-hour bus strike begins.

Read more here: Bus strike: 11th-hour deal to avert industrial action may be possible

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe said he was disappointed that the talks broke down.

"It is extremely disappointing that the LRC talks aimed at having the planned industrial action to begin at midnight called off have broken down," he said.

"I have repeatedly said that this action is unjustified and will cause considerable damage to an economy that is in recovery, have financial implications for the bus companies who are only just getting back on their feet and discommode the travelling public who are attempting to go about their daily business.

“Conditions had been created earlier in the week within which, it was hoped, a resolution could take place. The fact now that parties have walked away from discussions will be met with disappointment and frustration by many.”

Bus Éireann said it was also bitterly disappointed at the decision by unions to proceed with strike action this Friday and Saturday.

In a statement it claimed every endeavour to resolve this dispute at the LRC.

"This decision now seriously impacts the daily lives of our customers, the financial security of the business and the wider economy," it said in a statement.

"It will result in the loss of an estimated 250,000 passenger journeys and €1.5m in revenue.

"The walkout from the LRC by Siptu and the NBRU is completely unwarranted and disproportionate, given the commitments that were made to them by both the company and the transport minister."

The company maintained that allegations it is to blame, or tried to obfuscate the resolution to this dispute, is totally erroneous and disingenuous.

"Bus Éireann management have engaged in all meetings and discussions on route tendering, and this week guaranteed that no employees would lose their jobs or have their terms and conditions altered, if our bid to retain the routes was unsuccessful," it added.

The firm aplogised to customers for the significant disruption the action will cause.

"We remain open to resolving the matter immediately. We strongly urge the unions to return to the LRC forum, which is the only place a resolution can be found," it added.

Earlier, Taoiseach Enda Kenny appealed to bus unions to avert the looming strike insisting that going ahead with it will “serve nobody’s interest”.

Mr Kenny said he saw no need for the planned strike adding he hoped common sense would prevail.

“I hope that common sense plays out here, there is no need for this planned strike, no reason whatsoever that it should happen,” he said.

Speaking at the launch of the HP Innovation Centre in Galway, Mr Kenny said the Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe and the companies involved, Bus Eireann and Dublin Bus, had made "every conceivable effort" to set out that nobody was under any duress as a result of the proposed legislation.

He warned the strike would “disrupt hundreds of thousands of passengers for no reason”.

“This is not a case of privatisation, it is a case of showing that in the customers interest that Bus Eireann and Dublin Bus are able to tender themselves for the small percentage of routes involved and that’s in the customers interest.

“So I do hope that common sense will prevail and that the indications made by the Minister will be followed through by the unions. And I would appeal to them at this late stage to go in there to the Labour Relations Commission and avert this strike planned from midnight tonight. It will serve nobody’s interest in going ahead with it,” he added.

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