Belfast Telegraph

Bus Eireann route closure proposals creating 'fear' in workers

Union chiefs have accused Bus Eireann of striking more uncertainty and fear into workers after proposing shutting three loss-making routes.

In a management document issued as talks continued on a 30 million euro cost-cutting plan, the company suggested there is significant scope for savings in overtime, rotas, spare driver arrangements, hiring buses, sick pay, bonuses, expenses and flexibility.

Bus Eireann said they would save more than 1 million euro if they pulled the 833 Dublin to Derry, the X7 Dublin to Clonmel and the 021 Athlone to Westport.

Other routes could be kept but the frequency of services stripped back as the company revealed losses of 9.4 million euro for last year and 1.5m euro for January alone.

Siptu sector organiser Willie Noone said: "It only serves to create more uncertainty and fear among the workforce and those communities who rely on the vital transport services our members provide."

Mr Noone said there is no indication how many staff the company envisages keeping on.

"Siptu representatives remain resolute in our mission to protect public transport services in rural communities and will resist attempts by management to reduce our members' pay and conditions of employment," he said.

The negotiations got under way after unions suspended an all-out indefinite strike by drivers, back office staff and other employees due. The threat remains in place, unions have warned as the potential for 30% pay cuts remains to meet the huge losses.

Dermot O'Leary, National Bus and Rail Union general secretary, said the company document was an insult.

"It's absolutely appalling that management at Bus Eireann are playing Russian roulette with its own staff and the public transport system by deliberately provoking staff into bringing the entire transport system to a halt, ignoring long-standing negotiating practices," he said.

Mr O'Leary said Bus Eireann management were showing a lack of regard for the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), which is facilitating the talks.

Bus Eireann said last year's losses had been forecast to be 6.8 million euro, but swelled by almost 3 million euro due to third party claims, declining revenue, bus hire issues, overtime and absenteeism.

It also claimed there are too many clerical staff - 60 managers, 58 at executive grade level and 220 other staff - and that the average salary of 45,000 euro is "excessive and cannot be justified".

The Bus Eireann document claimed its 1,378 drivers earned 47,000 euro on average last year and there were "a significant number earning over 60,000 euro".

The document said a driver's 39-hour working week does not fit neatly into schedules and the current practice of two hours and 45 minutes of unpaid breaks a day.

A spokeswoman for Bus Eireann said: "Bus Eireann have due regard to the current WRC process and have no comment while this is ongoing."

Bus Eireann said the drivers are not responsible for inefficiencies in rosters, overtime and spare driver cover, but a "more flexible and cost-effective approach" is needed.

The document said: "Schedules do not lend themselves to a standard 39-hour week and in the future we must ensure that where drivers are employed for specific routes that their contracts of employment reflect this.

"There also needs to be flexibility built in to reflect changes in schedule or for the provision of cover."

Among the proposals alongside the route closures are:

:: A number of depots or garages will be closed and maintenance should be done at night.

:: Workers should not be automatically entitled to overtime and proposed cutting Sunday premium payment from 100% to 20%.

:: Expenses should be cut by 10% and wage increments should be stopped from March.

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