BUS Eireann drivers are to go on strike from next week, throwing the travel plans of thousands of bus passengers into chaos.
Up to 900 drivers who are members of the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) will refuse to work after the company announced it will go ahead with cost-cutting plans from Sunday, May 12.
The move comes after the Labour Court ruled in February that the company had to make savings of €20m to secure its future. Some €11m of savings are to come from operations, and €9m from employee terms and conditions.
In a hard-hitting statement, Bus Eireann said that despite announcing its cost-cutting plans in June last year, there had been "no progress" on savings because of "trade union resistance" and warned that job losses would follow any failure to cut costs.
The "very existence" of the transport company is under threat, it claimed.
"We have no other choice but to remind employees and trade unions once again that unlike the wider public sector, there is no safety net for Bus Eireann. If we do not reduce our cost base, jobs losses may be unavoidable," a spokesman said.
"We had a Labour Court recommendation that came out in February. We've been meeting the unions since to provide clarification. If we don't implement those changes the viability of the company is in threat.
"Any industrial action will be completely counter-productive because it will cause inconvenience to customers, result in losses and worsen the financial situation. We have to look at employment levels and core pay if we can't get the savings."
Most workers are represented by SIPTU and the NBRU and they will be hit with a reduction in overtime and premium payments; an increase in the working week for clerical and executive staff from 36 hours to 39 hours; a reduction in annual leave by three days per year up to 2015; and cuts in a range of allowance and expense payments.
But the NBRU said it had been engaging with the company over the changes, and was shocked to be told yesterday that the cost-cutting plan was being implemented.
"To say it's a bolt out of the blue is an understatement," general secretary Michael Faherty said. Up to 900 members would not be working if the company went ahead with its plans.
"The only thing I can say with certainty is our members will not be operating under the terms of the Labour Court recommendations. I think it will be tragic if the public find themselves without a service, and staff without wages, when it wouldn't take a lot to make the recommendations acceptable.
"We already have a mandate (strike action). We would love to know what changed."
The two other main unions, SIPTU and the TSSA, have already balloted on industrial action.
The TSSA (Transport Salaried Staffs' Association), which represents 250 clerical workers, said it had suggested cost-saving measures which were rejected.
Spokesman Jim Kavanagh said members would be balloted for industrial action.
SIPTU could not be reached for comment.