School transport services for 115,000 under threat with drivers set to hold strike ballot
Tens of thousands of school children face being left stranded after the Easter break as trade union Siptu announced plans to ballot its members for strike action.
About 400 drivers operate school transport services within Bus Éireann, a total of just over 10pc of all services.
The remaining 90pc are provided by the private sector under contract.
Some 115,000 children at primary and post-primary level are taken to school every day under the School Transport Scheme, and could be without a service if drivers vote to join striking colleagues on the picket lines.
Drivers and their unions have been in negotiations at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) for months seeking a pay rise, but efforts have stalled in the wake of ongoing industrial unrest across the wider company which is now into its second week.
The union said a ballot would be completed by April 21, and was being taken to protect drivers.
This was because all workers' jobs were under threat due to the crisis in the company, which lost more than €8m last year and continues to haemorrhage cash in 2017.
"Although they are employees of Bus Éireann, these workers have to date not been party to the ongoing dispute at the company," Siptu sector organiser Willie Noone said.
"However, it is now known that their livelihoods will also be adversely affected in the circumstances that their employer is not able to continue trading.
"This leaves our members with no other option but to consider industrial action to protect their jobs and the services they provide."
School bus drivers are seeking a pay increase of up to 3pc, and met with management at the Workplace Relations Commission yesterday.
However, no progress was made. Both sides are due to next meet on April 24, three days after the ballot closes.
The company said it had not committed to a pay rise for school bus drivers, saying it could only be considered on a self-financing basis and if a deal on productivity was agreed.
Separately, the company has written to private operators working under the School Transport Scheme to advise that payments due are likely to be delayed.
The delay arises due to administrative staff being on strike, but Bus Éireann said payments would be made next week.
The organisation representing private coach and bus operators across the country said services operated by its members would continue to run, adding that payments were usually made within 30 days of receipt of the invoice.
CTTC national director Kevin Traynor said the organisation would monitor the situation. About 3,400 private buses are used.