Transport Minister Ross described as 'Pontius Pilate' character hiding from bus chaos
- Dáil hears ‘sledgehammer’ is being taken to workers’ terms and conditions
- Taoiseach says rumours of cuts to free travel scheme are ‘utterly false
TRANSPORT Minister Shane Ross has been described as a “Pontius Pilate” character who is hiding from the looming chaos at Bus Eireann.
Opposition leaders have hit out at the Government’s response to a possible open-ended strike by workers at the company.
Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin claimed that privately Mr Ross is “very comfortable” with what is happening at Bus Eireann.
He argued that efforts were made to avert industrial unrest at Dublin Bus and the Luas but Mr Ross had adopted an attitude of “to hell with rural Ireland”.
Bus Eireann has said it could be insolvent by May if it does not reduce its pay bill by €12m.
Management want to make savings on overtime, spare driver arrangements, hiring buses, sick pay, bonuses, expenses and flexibility.
Three routes – Dublin-Clonmel; Athlone-Westport and Dublin-Derry – may also be axed in a bid to save €1.1m.
Mr Martin said Bus Eireann bosses were had taken “a very aggressive approach” that is “conflict driven”.
“That is the strategy to get the average bus driver’s salary down to around €30,000 or €32,000,” he said.
“In one fell swoop we’re taking a sledgehammer to workers’ terms and conditions.”
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams noted that as he contemplates his own political future his legacy will reflect the lack of rights afforded to citizens.
“You don’t agree that workers should be protected from exploitation whether it’s for Tesco or Bus Eireann,” he said.
Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin also criticised the Government, saying: “The record of this administration will be a return to an era of industrial chaos.
“The crisis is being used to slash the terms and conditions for frontline workers in Bus Eireann.”
In response Taoiseach Enda Kenny acknowledged that a potentially “catastrophic situation” is looming for hundreds of thousands of passengers.
He noted that 81pc of Bus Eireann customers travel on services that are subsidised by the taxpayer but problems exist with the company’s commercial enterprises.
“Rumours of taking away the free travel scheme are completely are utterly false,” he said.
“The three routes that were mention are for discussion, no decisions have been made.”
Mr Kenny defended Shane Ross, saying the minister is “very anxious that the machinery of the State by used”.
The Taoiseach denied the Government were “hands off” and called for “direct engagement one way or the other with the management or the unions”.