Friday 17 November 2017

'A strike will be very damaging' - Minister responds as Bus Eireann workers confirm action

Stock image PA
Stock image PA
Allison Bray

Allison Bray

Transport Minister Shane Ross has claimed a Bus Eireann strike will be "very damaging" to the travelling public as Siptu confirmed industrial action will go ahead on February 20.

Siptu's Transport Sector organiser Willie Noone confirmed today that the indefinite strike will go ahead unless Bus Eireann's CEO Ray Hernan submits a letter to the unions confirming that the company will hold talks without pre-conditions.

Unless that happens, all Bus Eireann intercity and Expressway services will grind to a halt, he said.

"We're saying 'take the proposals off the table and make it without conditions' and we'll meet with you," Mr Noone said.

He also didn't rule out the strike spreading to all CIE companies.

"There are disputes bubbling under the surface at other CIE companies. They're aghast at what happened to their colleagues at Bus Eireann. They've put huge pressure on us to actually convene a meeting to discuss with them manners and ways they can support their colleagues," he said.

"This dispute at Bus Eireann has really raised the bar and it may well now spread and have contagion to other CIE companies," he said.

He also didn't rule out school bus drivers "getting dragged into it very quickly."

However at this stage, they are not affected, he said.

But Dermot O'Leary, general secretary of the National Bus and Railworkers Union (NBRU) said there is possibility of a reprieve over the next fortnight if Bus Eireann's acting CEO Ray Hernan agrees to drop the pre-conditions for an agreement.

"All he has to do is write a letter to the trade unions and request a meeting without pre-conditions," he told Independent.ie.

"That would solve it."

The decision to go on strike was unanimously agreed by the five unions representing Bus Eireann following a meeting that lasted only an hour at the UNITE trade union office in Dublin this afternoon.

Bus Eireann Acting CEO, Ray Hernan responded to union plans for industrial action by stating that he is "more than willing to hear any alternative proposals they have for achieving savings of €30m".

In a statement the company said it will not put pre-conditions on any talks that will assist in addressing the current financial crisis to ensure the long term viability of the company.

Mr Hernan said that the necessary efficiencies must be found within the company because it is a long term solution and not a short term fix, which is required.

"Bus Éireann has commenced consultation with the National Transport Authority to ensure connectivity is maintained for our customers. Given that it has been clarified by the Minister for Transport that no funding can be made available for commercial services. Bus Éireann believes it is imperative that talks commence urgently to protect the long term future of the business, which today marks its 30th anniversary as the largest national transport provider in Ireland," the statement reads.

Transport Minister Shane Ross expressed his disappointment at the announcement by the Trade Unions in Bus Éireann of their intention to strike. He stated: “A strike will be very damaging to the travelling public, the workforce, rural communities and the company itself.”

He once again renewed his call for both the company and the Trade Unions to engage in negotiations, without any preconditions, to address the serious problems stemming from its commercial Expressway services.

Minister Ross added: “Through the WRC or Labour Court, the State can assist both the staff and management in discussions to resolve this dispute.”

Commenting on today’s decision, Unite Regional Officer Willie Quigley accused Minister Shane Ross and Bus Éireann management of holding communities and unions to ransom through the threatened unilateral imposition of cuts without consultation.

"Over the past fortnight both the Minister and management have disregarded numerous requests from the unions to convene a forum of all stakeholders, to publish all relevant information, and to withdraw threatened cuts so that meaningful talks could take place.

"The Minister and management are effectively holding both workers and communities to ransom, and today the Group of Unions had no option to respond to this unprecedented attack on semi-state workers by announcing an all-out strike starting on February 20.

"In taking this action, our concern is as much for communities and the travelling public as for our members, and our meeting today decided that school buses will not be affected by the strike.

"It is not too late for the Minister to reflect on the situation, instruct Acting CEO Ray Hernan to withdraw his ‘letters of threat’, and convene a forum involving all stakeholders to chart a sustainable way forward for this vital public service and national asset.

"Meanwhile, Unite will be serving notice tomorrow of strike action commencing at 00.01 hours on Monday February 20", Willie Quigley said.

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