Monday 18 December 2017

Fresh hope as unions agree to attend talks aimed at resolving Bus Éireann dispute

Bus Éireann buses outside Busáras (stock photo)
Bus Éireann buses outside Busáras (stock photo)

Anne-Marie Walsh

Bus Eireann workers will remain on the picket lines although unions have agreed to attend talks to resolve a row that has brought public transport to a standstill.

The National Bus and Railworkers Union and Siptu have accepted an invitation from the Workplace Relations Commission to discussions this afternoon.

The Workplace Relations Commission's intervention comes after the dispute escalated last Friday when staff took unofficial action that halted Irish Rail and Dublin Bus services.

Unions at the company mounted an all-out strike last Friday week after the company announced it would impose cuts to work practices without agreement.

Bus Éireann's Acting Chief Executive Ray Hernan has warned it faces insolvency in May and must implement a €30m cost-cutting plan as soon as possible.

In a statement, the National Bus and Railworkers Union said it will call for a complete review of the management structure at the company at tomorrow's talks.

It said this review should include the salaries of those "who are leading the demand for our members to become more productive".

The union said an overarching solution could only be achieved if all stakeholders, including the Department of Transport and the National Transport Authority are part of the process.

General Secretary Dermot O'Leary said the union had previously committed to a series of discussions at the Workplace Relations Commission around an "efficiency-based agenda".

"NBRU members and other staff across Bus Éireann are extremely frustrated with the apparent lack of urgency around the requirement to resolve this debilitating transport dispute," he said.

He said it should be noted that "we have been here before" and accused management of walking away from talks on two previous occasions.

Mr O'Leary said some staff had been suffering cuts to pay and conditions since January, and others had been threatened with dismissal. He said this was an issue that would have to be addressed at the talks.

"In the meantime, our members have resolved to remain on picket lines during the Workplace Relations Commission talks process," he said.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, Willie Noone, said the picketing of Bus Éireann depots will continue as some members had been dismissed from their jobs in recent days.

"To expect our members to return to work without resolving this situation or reversing the cuts that the company has already imposed on other workers is not reasonable or acceptable," he said.

“Furthermore, it may also focus the minds of the management of Bus Éireann and stop it from walking away from talks for the third time."

He said SIPTU is committed to achieving an outcome to the dispute that would underpin the survival of Bus Éireann as an employer which treats its workers fairly.

Bus Éireann said it has accepted the invitation to talks to find a resolution to the ongoing dispute.

In a statement, it said the company’s financial situation continues to deteriorate.

"Achieving savings to remain solvent and sustain the business is now vital," it said.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross said he welcomes the announcement.

“I welcome this afternoon's announcement that both parties have accepted an invitation from the WRC to recommence discussions. I hope that all involved can use this opportunity to agree upon an acceptable and fair deal.

"The travelling public will expect that the parties can come to an agreement that allows for an end to this recent period of disruption to transport services.”

Previous talks at the commission broke down when management and unions disagreed over changes to overtime.

Unions claimed changes to rostered overtime patterns would have reduced earnings for some drivers by up to 30pc and would affect some members more than others.

The company complained that it sought savings of €12m from a payroll of €133m, or 9pc, but unions would only agree to a €0.5m saving on the overtime bill of €13m.

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