Sunday 25 February 2018

'I see signs of hope in Bus Éireann dispute but state cannot fund Expressway services,' Ross to tell committee

Transport Minister Shane Ross. Picture by Fergal Phillips
Transport Minister Shane Ross. Picture by Fergal Phillips

Anne-Marie Walsh

Minister for Transport Shane Ross will today tell a Dáil Committee that the government will only boost funding for cash-strapped Bus Éireann "as resources allow".

However, he will insist that the government is "committed toward ensuring adequately funded public transport services".

He will also say that the government will review "how best to ensure a sustainable funding model" for the free travel scheme.

But he insists that the taxpayer cannot fund the Expressway service as it cannot contribute to the services of one operator and not another. He will say this is a "basic principle of fairness" and a fundamental tenet of European law.

Mr Ross will outline that just over €40m was granted to Bus Éireann last year to provided socially necessary but commercially unviable services. In addition, he says the company receives around €150m a year of taxpayer funding in respect of its school transport work.

In addition, he will emphasise that he secured 11pc additional funding for overall public transport services, which will see Bus Éireann benefit from even more taxpayer funding this year.

A copy of his submission to the Transport Committee, seen by Independent.ie, also says he sees "signs of hope" that a dispute that could lead to an all-out strike can be resolved.

The five unions at Bus Éireann are expected to outline their strategy for industrial action at a meeting tomorrow after the company announced it will impose cost cutting measures on February 20.

They include the axing of shift payments, a 10pc reduction in allowances, and setting up a pool of temporary and casual drivers.

Members of Siptu, the Nbru, and Unite have balloted in favour of industrial action up to strike action.

"I know this might seem strange, but I saw some signs of hope last week," says Mr Ross.

"Because amongst all the noise, we heard two clear messages."

He says the first is that unions are willing to engage in talks  with no pre-conditions.

"The second was the acting CEO confirming to this committee that nothing he has said or issued in recent weeks constitutes pre-conditions," he says.

He said both parties need to reflect on how the state's industrial relations resolution bodies can assist and "instigate whatever action is needed" to ensure talks begin.

Meanwhile, the Acting Chief Executive of Bus Eireann, Ray Hernan, will separately tell another committee that failure to implement cuts later this month would be "reckless and irresponsible".

Mr Hernan will tell the Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs that implementing the measures from February 20 is "critical to safeguarding the maximum number of viable jobs and avoiding the risk of insolvency".

He will insist that unions' refusal to discuss the measures he believes "must be taken" has left management with no other option but to proceed with the "necessary changes".

He will once again urge unions to accept the company's invitation to discuss the measures and begin talks urgently.

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