Monday 22 January 2018

Unions 'won't pay a penny' to management for strike losses

Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

Union leaders have vowed not to "pay a penny" to Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus with both companies set to take legal action to recoup millions lost from the two-day strike.

Management at the bus companies confirmed they issued letters to the two unions involved informing them of their decision to seek compensation for losses, including reputational damage.

Siptu Divisional Organiser Owen Reidy described the decision to pursue legal action as "foolish", adding that it will only lead to "heightened tensions" among all parties.

"If they take this challenge, we'll meet it head on, and we won't be paying a penny to anybody," he told the Irish Independent.

"This is a legitimate trade dispute with both employers because they have failed to address the industrial relations issues involved."

The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) has issued a letter to management at both Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, describing their threat of legal action as "clearly unnecessary and vexatious".

It disputes claims that the industrial action their workers have undertaken is illegal, pointing out a ballot was taken and it was in compliance with the law.

Mr Reidy said they would defend their position but hinted further talks may be on the cards sometime next week.

"There may be some sort of engagement if the employers are prepared to move and start to really engage. But that's a matter for them - they must be prepared to move."

The dispute is over plans to put 10pc of public bus routes out to private tender. Unions believe that the future of State-owned transport providers is at stake when current tenders run out in 2019.

The Irish Small and Medium Enterprise Association (ISME) said businesses have been "severely affected" by the strike.

ISME CEO Mark Fielding said the timing couldn't be worse as the economy has started to show signs of recovery.

"Irish SMEs are only beginning to recover from a disastrous recession. They cannot afford the considerable cost in lost man-hours, trade, and productivity, due to the withdrawal of necessary social and commercial services," he said.

"The illegal action is seriously disrupting business activity throughout the country, resulting in the activities of many small companies being severely affected, due to employees being unable to attend for work."

In a letter to Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe and the chief executives of Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and the National Transport Authority, the NBRU general secretary, Dermot O'Leary, says that the threat of legal action against unions has done a disservice to employees and customers.

Management at the bus companies insist the industrial action "is not a legal dispute" and that they were "forced to take unprecedented action".

"It is critical to underline that management of both companies are not taking action directly against their employees, but are however seeking to recover losses from the two unions, NBRU and Siptu, for taking what we believe is not only a reckless, but illegal action," the firms stated.

"We were trying to get it over the line today, but the legal papers will be lodged on Tuesday morning in the Central Office of the High Court," a Bus Éireann spokeswoman said. Bus drivers are also planning a stoppage for May 15-16, and a three-day strike on May 29, 30 and 31.


Union head is no stranger to strikes

Owen Reidy is no stranger to industrial action and has played a key role in many bitter and protracted disputes.

The Siptu Divisional Organiser was heavily involved in the so-called 'Greyhound Lockout' last year.

The 14-week dispute between Greyhound employees and the company ended with the workers agreeing to go back to work.

The 70-strong workforce at the Dublin recycling plant had mounted pickets after the company abruptly slashed wages by 35pc.

In 2001, he was promoted to the position of branch secretary in Aer Lingus.

In the same year he was a key player in a three-day national dispute at the airline after Willie Walsh became CEO.

There was major restructuring and a three-day strike ensued.

Irish Independent

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