Sunday 18 March 2018

Start of crisis talks sparks hope that further bus strikes can be averted

Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Frank McGrath
Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Frank McGrath

Martin Grant

Crisis pay talks will start this morning to prevent planned Dublin Bus strikes from going ahead.

Dublin Bus management, the National Bus and Railworkers' Union (NBRU) and Siptu last night agreed to attend the Workplace Relations Commission for exploratory talks today.

The talks come after a row erupted last night between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael over the handling of the dispute by Transport Minister Shane Ross.

Despite the late developments, Siptu warned that a decision to cancel or go ahead with the planned strike action tomorrow and Wednesday would be made on the "progress or otherwise" of today's meeting.

"We understand that the purpose of this initial meeting is to see whether there is the basis for a negotiation between the parties," said Siptu spokesman Owen Reidy.

NBRU general secretary Dermot O'Leary said the request to attend talks without preconditions was something the union had been calling for.

"The fact is that our members are extremely angry that the inaction to date by the company and the Department of Transport has caused severe disruption to commuters and staff alike," said Mr O'Leary.

He added that the union's focus had always been to get Dublin Bus to attend talks to address the fact that bus drivers were "deserving of a fair and adequate wage rise after eight long years of austerity".

Mr Ross last night said he was "pleased" the talks would take place and said the institutions needed space to generate an agreement that was "fair and workable for both sides".

Education Minister Richard Bruton weighed in behind his cabinet colleague last night, saying that Mr Ross is pursing a "consistent and correct policy".

He also warned that there would "not be more money" to resolve the industrial dispute.

"It would be a drastic mistake for a minister to undermine those independent bodies (WRC and Labour Court) who, after all, have representations by both unions and employers on those bodies.

"The minister's role is to plan a longer-term future… it's not to come in and supplant either the Labour Court or supplant normal industrial relations," said Mr Bruton.

However, Fianna Fáil transport spokesman Robert Troy said that Mr Ross had been "absolutely deafening in his silence" and urged him to take action.

"The minister has a greater role to play," said the Longford TD.

"The minister should be talking to Dublin Bus. He waited until one week before Dublin Bus workers went on strike before he even met the management of Dublin Bus."

He added that Mr Ross must clearly spell out the Government's vision for public transport.

Thousands of commuters faced severe disruption across the weekend as staff at Dublin Bus went on strike for a fifth and sixth day as part of a campaign for higher pay.

Union members are seeking a 15pc pay rise over the next three years, as well as a payment in lieu of an agreed 6pc that was deferred in 2009.

About 400,000 people have had their travel plans disrupted on each day of the strikes, according to management at Dublin Bus.

Irish Independent

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