'Ross a spectator' in bus strike saga as school children set to suffer most
More than 115,000 children and their parents face the prospect of a school bus strike after a union accused Bus Éireann of threatening drivers' jobs.
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 the company could go out of business before the end of the year with the loss of 2,600 jobs.
Transport Minister Shane Ross is under mounting pressure over the fate of the bus service - but has been accused of being a "spectator" in the saga.
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.
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.
Meanwhile, speculation is mounting that Bus Éireann may set an implementation date to cut workers' earnings after an attempt to get the Labour Court to intervene was unsuccessful.
Unions at Bus Éireann will attend a meeting to consider their strategy for industrial action today. Mr Hernan revealed yesterday he wanted to sign off on a final cost-cutting plan that would be presented to the board by the end of March.
He also said he had only met Mr Ross once - but said that he "understands the predicament" facing Bus Éireann.
Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin told the Dáil that the Transport Minister was now overseeing a situation that was set to "undermine a vital national company".
To date, Bus Éireann's problems have focused on the Expressway service, which must compete with private companies without the aid of State subvention.
However, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin suggested the public might not be getting the full story about restructuring plans at the bus company.
He said the threat to the Expressway service had "caused deep concern among the workforce and the travelling public".
Mr Martin went on to claim that there had been a "ratcheting up" of language by management.
"It seems to me that there's something afoot," he said, adding that Mr Ross was trying to keep his fingerprints off the situation. "A bit more transparency from all would be welcome," he said.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny defended Mr Ross's record on the issue, saying the minister did not underestimate the problems. "A resolution has to be found between the company and the trade unions," he said.
Last night, the NBRU called on Mr Ross to hold a public debate to prevent a "contrived and forced industrial relations dispute" continue.