Sunday 25 February 2018

Bus Éireann workers put on strike standby despite ongoing talks

Siptu is 'fully prepared and determined' to defend conditions

Ray Hernan (second left), acting CEO of Bus Éireann, and officials arriving at the Oireachtas meeting Picture: Tom Burke
Ray Hernan (second left), acting CEO of Bus Éireann, and officials arriving at the Oireachtas meeting Picture: Tom Burke

Anne-Marie Walsh

A union has warned Bus Éireann workers to be on standby for an indefinite all-out strike, despite entering talks to end a row over a €30m cost-cutting plan.

In a notice to its 1,000 members, Siptu said it is "fully prepared, resourced and determined" to defend their conditions of employment.

It indicated its willingness to fund industrial action - with strike pay worth €40 a day - as it attended talks, along with the Nbru, Tssa, Unite and the Teeu, at the Workplace Relations Commission in a bid to end a dispute over pay cuts.

Unions deferred a strike due to start on Monday and the company suspended the rollout of the cuts to attend talks.

"Members can also be advised that the strike action may have to be restored again dependent on the company's actions and can also be advised that this union is fully prepared, resourced and determined to defend our members' conditions of employment," said the message from Siptu.

Bus Éireann wants to slash €12m from its payroll costs as part of a €30m plan that acting chief executive Ray Hernan has said he wants to present to the company's board next month, as he tries to stave off the threat of insolvency within 11 months.

Unions claim the cuts, which include axing shift payments and a 10pc reduction in allowances, would shave up to 30pc from earnings, including around €7,913 from the salary of a bus driver on €43,500 a year.

The company claims the average cut would be 10pc.

Sources at the talks said the "jury's out" as to whether a deal can be brokered, while others said they were not optimistic.

It is understood that the management team reminded unions that the company could go out of business this year.

But unions insisted that a range of issues - including a pay demand - are dealt with before there is any discussion of the payroll cuts.

There may be some room for negotiation on work practices that are not efficient, including rostering and bus maintenance policies, to achieve savings, but unions said they will not accept cuts to earnings.

In its message to members, Siptu said it would use the opportunity of talks to engage on issues other than the company's plan to impose cuts.

This includes an outstanding claim for a pay rise in the region of 3.75pc a year that was achieved by Luas and Dublin Bus drivers last year following campaigns of strike action.

Unions also sought to discuss changes to overtime imposed by the company last month that they claim are hitting members in the pocket. They also want to resolve a dispute over a Labour Court recommendation relating to the company's contributions to an income continuance scheme they say has not been fully implemented.

The general secretary of the Nbru, Dermot O'Leary, said he suspects Bus Éireann is trying to join low-wage operators so it can engage in "cut-throat" competition for future contracts.

The Irish Independent previously revealed that a report by consultants Grant Thornton advised Bus Éireann that it may have no other option than to exit its loss-making Expressway operation.

"We have suspicions that the real agenda here is not confined to Expressway," said Mr O'Leary.

"We suspect that the company is trying to position itself for future tendering processes and attempting to align themselves with low-wage operators in order to position themselves to get involved in cut-throat competition for further public service obligation contracts in the near future."

Bus Éireann said it had no comment to make, as this had been requested by the Workplace Relations Commission.

Talks will resume on Monday and are also scheduled to take place on Tuesday.

Irish Independent

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