Saturday 7 December 2019

Bus unions pull back from strike as pay talks begin


Both sides in long-running transport dispute agree to meet at Labour Court to negotiate deal

KEY Labour Court talks are to take place this week in Dublin in a bid to resolve a festering dispute in Bus Eireann.

However, the threat of industrial action at the company that provides bus services across Ireland has been lifted for now, after 12 hours of talks at the Labour Relations Commission ended on Friday night. As a result, Bus Eireann services are expected to run as normal today and tomorrow.

Unions had threatened to down tools today if the company went ahead with cuts for its 2,500 staff from today.

However, after the LRC talks, the company said both sides had agreed to attend a Labour Court hearing as soon as possible.

The National Bus and Rail Union had threatened to strike immediately over wage cuts, while Siptu and TSSA planned to picket on Thursday. Bus Eireann said it had agreed to defer implementing its plan "for a short period" while the Labour Court hearing takes place.

The Labour Court will discuss the company's revised proposals as union chiefs warned there were still major issues to be overcome in the talks. But the Labour Court decision will not be binding and any outcome at the talks will then have to be balloted by the union members.

The company is still looking to make savings of around €9m in payroll costs.

Company spokesman Andrew McLindon said there had been positive engagement and a lot of progress at the talks and some common ground was found.

"We have come a good long way but we are not there yet," he said. At issue is the company's proposals to reduce costs following a 25pc cut in a government subvention, which means the company faces losses of €16m this year.

The original plan included cuts in overtime from time-and-a-half to time-and-a-quarter; an increase in clerical and executive staff's working week from 36 to 39 hours; and cuts in shift, premium and rota payments.

But the company promised shift payments could be restored next year.

Also involved was cutting annual leave by three days over the next three years, and cutting allowances and expenses by a third.

Union sources said some of the proposals in the revised plan had been clarified, and some items had been taken out, but there still remained serious concern about cuts in shift allowances which would mean a €30 cut per shift, and cuts to expenses which would see drivers having to provide their own transport to get to rural locations.

There was already compulsory overtime for about 300 drivers, while one source warned the expenses issue was "extremely contentious".

The company's Business Recovery Plan, unveiled last June, aimed to bring in the work practice changes from August last year but agreement could not be reached.

Overall it is still seeking €20m in savings this year, with an €11m cut in operations and the other €9m cut in its payroll.

Sunday Independent

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