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Tuesday 21 November 2017

Commuters in capital facing chaos as bus strikes loom

NBRU chief Dermot O'Leary tells Anne-Marie Walsh his union 'will not be found wanting' in pay disputes

Dermot O’Leary, general secretary of the National Bus and Railworkers’ Union. Photo: Doug O’Connor
Dermot O’Leary, general secretary of the National Bus and Railworkers’ Union. Photo: Doug O’Connor

Anne-Marie Walsh

A union leader has warned that commuters could face the "appalling vista" of another Luas-like campaign of industrial action as Dublin Bus drivers seek equal pay with tram drivers.

The general secretary of the National Bus and Railworkers' Union, Dermot O'Leary, said a refusal by their employer to give them a significant pay rise could spark similar strikes that would cause chaos for over 330,000 passengers a day.

He also warned that a €500m pensions deficit in the CIÉ Group had the potential to cause an all-out transport strike, while the threat of industrial action at Irish Rail looms after talks with the company collapsed.

Mr O'Leary was speaking after a majority of his 1,450 members at Dublin Bus had voted overwhelmingly last Friday in favour of industrial action over their claim for a pay rise of at least 3.8pc a year. The vote came after they had rejected a Labour Court recommendation for an annual 2.75pc increase.

A 3.8pc pay rise - which the court recently awarded to Luas drivers - would be the first step in the union's mission to achieve the ultimate goal of a 31pc increase that would bring their wages in line with the Luas drivers.

Mr O'Leary argued that bus and tram drivers were essentially "the same animal" as they provide a similar service, while Luas drivers work routes that used to be served by buses.

He said a bus driver's wage was in the region of €39,000 at the top of the pay scale, including shift and premium payments, compared with a tram driver's salary of €42,247, plus a 6.5pc bonus.

The latter is set to rise to €53,000 when the recent pay rise is included.

The union is also demanding a 6pc increase that remains unpaid under the last social partnership agreement.

"Despite our members' desire not to have to resort to any disruption, it is an undeniable fact that dismissing their genuine pay claim could potentially lead to the appalling vista of a series of disputes similar to that seen at Transdev," said Mr O'Leary.

"The necessity or otherwise of lengthy industrial action lies squarely with Dublin Bus and its paymasters.

"Failure to recognise that bus workers are long overdue a well-deserved, significant, pay rise will inevitably lead to an autumn of discontent."

However, 12 days of strikes may be less of a threat at Dublin Bus, given that the NBRU claim is well below the tram drivers' breathtaking opening gambit for an increase worth up to 54pc.

"My understanding of the Luas dispute is that the quantum of the claim presented its own difficulties and may have contributed significantly to the length of that dispute," he said.

"By presenting a logical claim, supported by evidence, I would not see the necessity for any dispute, never mind 12 days.

"And we were successful in getting a 20pc pay rise back in 2000 at Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann."

Mr O'Leary admits that achieving equal pay with Luas drivers "is just not achievable overnight".

However, he said that if Dublin Bus and its paymasters did not improve on the court's proposal, then his trade union would not be found "wanting" in terms of industrial action.

When asked whether it was fair to leave workers who had no chance of an 8pc pay rise without transport, Mr O'Leary said he could understand that workers in some sectors would be annoyed.

"My job is to represent my members," he said. "I don't represent the Joe Soap in the street. I can have sympathy for them. I can say that we don't want to go on strike.

"I can say to them that they're paying too much in fares as the Government stripped €140m out of transport subsidies in the last number of years.

"But ultimately, after eight years of austerity, two cost-cutting plans and pay cuts, there is a level of expectation.

"My members have seen other workers in the same sector being treated completely and utterly differently. For that, I won't apologise."

Mr O'Leary said that if you gave any group of workers the opportunity to protest at how they had been treated over the last eight or nine years, they would grab that opportunity.

Explaining why bus drivers should get the same pay as tram drivers, he said they were treated as one and the same in cities including Munich, Paris, Brussels, Lyons and Hanover.

"In actual fact, in some cases, you're driving a bus one week and a tram the next," he said.

The NBRU leader disputed the argument that Transdev employees work for a private company and therefore should not be used as a benchmark for CIÉ staff.

He said the Luas was more heavily subsidised than CIÉ companies, partly due to the infrastructure being funded by the taxpayer. In addition, taxpayers would end up paying directly for the Luas pay rise when the contract to run the service goes out to tender in 2019 and the new provider will seek to cover higher labour costs.

His members at Irish Rail are also balloting for industrial action after talks broke down with the company over issues includingtheir demand for a shorter working week.

The discussions collapsed after Irish Rail accused unions of blocking the training of Dart drivers by engaging in unofficial industrial action.

When asked if someone was lying, Mr O'Leary insisted that neither his union nor Siptu had any "hand, act or part" in orchestrating such action.

"People who are paid to manage are not necessarily managing," he added.

Irish Independent

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