Tuesday 16 January 2018

Transport Minister Ross 'not getting involved in nitty gritty' of Bus Eireann dispute and unions threaten 'all out strike'

Shane Ross. Picture: Damien Eagers
Shane Ross. Picture: Damien Eagers

Conor Feehan and Chai Brady

Transport Minister Shane Ross has insisted he is not going to get involved in the "nitty gritty" of an industrial dispute.

The minister has been accused of being a "spectator" in the latest dispute between Bus Eireann drivers and management.

Siptu is warning it will ballot 280 drivers for industrial action after a meeting over a 21pc pay claim at the Workplace Relations Commission.

Siptu accused Bus Éireann of dragging school bus drivers into a row over its survival plan as its acting chief executive Ray Hernan told a Dáil committee on Wednesday that the company could go out of business before the end of the year with the loss of 2,600 jobs.

Asked to respond to the accusations that he was a spectator, minister Ross said: "I want to make that absolutely clear for obvious reasons - I'm a shareholder. It's up to management and the unions to settle the nitty gritty of this dispute."

Asked if a minister cannot overview the situation, who can, he replied: "Of course I overview. I'm aware of what's happening day and night, but I'm not going to interfere in something which is basically not my business, it wouldn't be helpful to the process of resolving it."

Bus Éireann already faces the prospect of an all-out strike over cuts for the rest of the workforce, which unions claim will slash earnings by up to 30pc.

School bus drivers traditionally have not participated in industrial action at Bus Éireann, as their wages are funded by the Department of Education so their pay has been dealt with separately.

Shane Ross. Picture: Damien Eagers
Shane Ross. Picture: Damien Eagers

But Siptu sector organiser Willie Noone said management negotiators warned that school bus drivers' jobs may be on the line if unions representing other workers resisted cuts currently being sought, including the axing of shift pay and reductions in allowances.

This afternoon Bus Éireann trade unions entered into talks with "all-out strike" being seriously considered.

Unite Regional Manager Willie Quigley said that anything less than all-out strike "wouldn’t be sufficient in this scenario".

He also hinted that the industrial action may encompass other services saying: "Whether the industrial action extends beyond Bus Éireann will also be discussed. We’re confronted with an unprecedented situation in the way the management have behaved in dealing with the matter at this moment in time."

Unite will be balloting its members while Siptu and the NBRU already have a mandate for strike action.

Dermot O’Leary of the NBRU criticised Transport Minister Shane Ross for not intervening in the dispute, saying he was an “inactive Minister”.

However, he said that they will have to consider all their options, as there are people that "rely on Bus Éireann in a lot of communities, and they don’t have the multi-choice options that people in other areas have".

Siptu’s Willie Noone said they were going to look at a range of options, and that all-out strike action has been "very strongly" put to them by union members.

He said: "It would be the nuclear option as far as we’re concerned but at times you have to fight fire with fire, the company have thrown a nuclear bomb into our conditions of employment and if that’s the mandate that we get from the members that’s the one we’ll follow."

This comes as the CEO of Bus Éireann said the company would soon be insolvent, meaning all 2,600 jobs in the company could be lost.

The company has not ruled out the need for voluntary redundancies, as well as cuts to overtime work and lunch pay.

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