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Commuters won't like it - but drivers are right to strike

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Dublin Bus

Dublin Bus

Dublin Bus

It's not always the case that opening markets to the private sector gets the best result.

Many commuters in Britain would argue that privatisation has resulted in higher fares and less reliable services as companies service shareholders instead of customers.

But the National Transport Authority (NTA) is adamant that what it is proposing is not privatisation. Instead of handing public money to the State-owned incumbents, it will instead pay a private operator to run 10pc of all bus services, it has said.

The reason is simple. To save money. Notwithstanding the fact that both bus companies have undergone substantial restructuring in recent years, overseen by the NTA, this simple solution to save more cash is turning out to be far more complex than first believed.

The first issue involves what happens to drivers who won't transfer to any new operator? What will they do? Will there be work for them, or will the incumbents be looking at a redundancy programme?

And there's the question of what happens those who do switch. The NTA insists their terms and conditions will be protected for the duration of the contract, but what about after that? Will their salary and roster remain the same?

It appears the Government intends ensuring these workers' pension entitlements are protected. But since when has any Government guaranteed the pensions of workers in a private company? Will legislation be required to copper-fasten such a guarantee? What kind of a precedent will that set?

And apart from the workers, there's also the question of the NTA presiding over a two-tier system, where workers driving the same buses on the same routes will be paid different salaries. Hardly the stuff of industrial peace.

Bus Éireann has already said it intends joining with a private company in a bid to operate some services. Dublin Bus may do the same.

Will that require the companies to employ new drivers at different rates of pay in order to compete for the routes? Given that bus drivers are hardly earning enormous salaries, is that a good thing?

It's far from ideal that these issues remain unresolved, despite the tendering process having already begun.

For that reason alone, drivers are right to strike and refuse to engage until legally-binding guarantees are made about their futures, especially given they have already been through a series of cost-cutting drives in recent years, and delivered the efficiencies sought by, among others, the NTA.

Irish Independent