Belfast Telegraph

Bus strike carries added threat to rail services, union warns

Union leaders have warned that a bus strike planned for next Monday may spread to the railways.

Transport services are under threat in towns and cities such as Limerick, Sligo, Galway, Waterford and Tralee where Bus Eireann shares depots with Irish Rail.

Dermot O'Leary, general secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union, told the Oireachtas Transport Committee that the country was unfortunately facing mass travel disruption when the all -out, indefinite strike kicked in.

"It's already been pointed out that some Bus Eireann depots are shared with Iarnrod Eireann," he said.

"Even though we in the trade union group are not in dispute with Iarnrod Eireann and advised our members accordingly, there's absolutely no guarantee that Irish Rail staff will attend at work in locations such as Limerick, Tralee, Waterford, Galway, Sligo etc."

The warning was issued just hours before Mr O'Leary was to join leaders from Unite, Siptu and the Transport Salaried Staffs Assocoiation (TSSA) and Bus Eireann manage ment for talks at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

The committee said it would write to Transport Minister Shane Ross and the acting chief executive of Bus Eireann Ray Hernan calling for threatened pay cuts of up to 30% to be lifted ahead of talks.

Mr O'Leary told the committee that the dispute was not an industrial relations issue or standard employee versus employer issue but a wider one involving government policy, competition and saturation of the market, particularly on inter-city routes and motorways.

He claimed that " several private operators" did not accept the free travel pass for older people and he warned that when rural areas lost a Bus Eireann service it would be replaced with a less frequent minibus.

Mr O'Leary said Bus Eireann staff did not cause the financial and existential crisis which meant the company lost between 8 and 9 million euro last year.

Unless a radical survival plan was put in place 2,600 jobs - and the future of rural transport - were at risk, Mr O'Leary said,.

Siptu, which represents about 1,000 workers in Bus Eireann, said rural and inter-city bus services could come to a grinding halt and the risk of contagion across other CIE companies was "unfortunately growing by the day".

Union representative Greg Ennis said the Government could look at the possibility of putting tariffs on private operators for running quicker and more popular inter-city services on the motorways.

The Unite trade union told the committee that subsidies in other European countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland were about 50% of earnings compared with 12% in Ireland.

Bus Eireann got about 40 million euro last year.

Mr Ennis said: "We either want a public transport system or we don't. If so, we need to fund it appropriately."

Unite also told the committee that if the state was paying full price for Bus Eireann to carry free travel pass holders it would have got 28.5 million euro compared with 11.4 million euro.

The Transport Minister has declined to intervene in the dispute directly but he said the WRC negotiations were an "important first step" and he urged all sides to engage constructively.

"The situation will only be resolved through such discussions," Mr Ross said.

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