Talks aimed at resolving the crisis at Bus Éireann haven broken down last night, sparking renewed fears of prospective strikes and travel disruption.
Unions had been locked in discussions with management at the Workplace Relations Commission for seven days before they collapsed. Earlier this month strikes had been deferred at the last minute after the company withdrew plans to unilaterally impose new efficiency measures and changes to work practices.
Both sides disagreed late last night about the reasons the talks ended abruptly.
A statement from Bus Éireann said: "Bus Éireann are extremely disappointed that talks with unions have broken down at the WRC today, following seven days of engagement.
"Given the seriousness of our financial position, we always had a very tight timeframe to implement actions but we nevertheless engaged in good faith to facilitate intensive discussion, with the aim of reaching a negotiated settlement with trade unions.
"Despite their public pronouncements about engaging on addressing the high level of inefficiencies, there has been no flexibility shown during our engagement on efficiency measures.
“While inefficiencies have been acknowledged and accepted by unions, there was a refusal to accept any reduction of earnings, including unnecessary overtime earnings.
The management team will now report to the Board of Bus Eireann to urgently re-assess what further action is now appropriate, and necessary, to safeguard the organisation and the service we provide.”
Leaders of both transport unions rejected the company’s assertion last night that they did not show flexibility.
Dermot O’Leary, general secretary of the National Busworkers and Railworkers Union, said “The trade unions engaged in good faith and came into the WRC process committed to engaging in an agenda around efficiencies.
“Despite our commitment to do that, the company concentrated its focus on immediately cutting workers take home pay which we would not countenance.
“Talks concluded without agreement and it’s now up to the company to revert in terms of their next course of action. If the company repeats its previous announcements around unilaterally cutting people’s pay, we will have no alternative but to re-activate our strike action.”
Willie Noone, SIPTU Transport Sector Organiser, said “There were a number of inefficiencies outlined by the company on which we would concur about getting those inefficiencies out of the system and we could help the company in their financial difficulties.
“However, the company wants them immediately and they haven’t come up with anything that would bring them in in a fair and equitable manner. We had looked for a reasonable time frame of a number of weeks where we could liaise with our members and try and get agreement in relation to a number of those inefficiencies.
“The company appears hell-bent in getting them in without giving us the time to go through the complexities of them.
“The company appears to be referring to us as inflexible but that’s totally untrue because any unnecessary overtime is there for the taking anyway. We would never safeguard that at all. But there is overtime which is part of core pay for years and to take that off people, which could run to €150 to €200 a week, is too much to bear for people who are reliant on it to pay their normal expenses.
“We are not going to provoke any dispute at all. The ball is in the company’s court and, on a number of occasions the company has said it is going to start implementing changes and we have said to them to pull back from the brink.
“I believe we have made progress in the talks in identifying where these inefficiencies are. The next step is to put in a time-bound program on how to get these inefficiencies out of the system.
“It’s not going to be helpful if the company goes back to its old ways of threatening to impose them which is only going to get one response only.”