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Commuters hit by 48-hour bus strike

Published 01/05/2015

Bus workers have walked out for two days
Bus workers have walked out for two days

Day one of a 48-hour bus strike has left hundreds of thousands of commuters stranded and disrupted bank holiday travel.

Pickets were placed on Bus Eireann and Dublin Bus depots as drivers followed through with threats to walk out over fallout from the planned privatisation of 10% of routes.

The National Bus and Rail Union and Siptu are now facing the threat of being sued after the companies claimed the strike is illegal and will cost them more than 2 million euro combined.

Last-ditch talks at the Labour Relations Commission broke down after just two hours yesterday with the companies and unions blaming each other for failing to engage meaningfully .

Dermot O'Leary, general secretary of the NBRU, dismissed the companies' claim that strike action - backed by workers in ballots - was breaking the law.

"We absolutely reject that. This is a genuine trade dispute," he said.

"This is an attack on people. Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann are suing and attacking the workers."

Dublin Bus spokeswoman Nicola Cooke accused the unions of walking out on yesterday's last-ditch talks and claimed they had acted in a cavalier, unwarranted and unjustified manner.

"This is a last and final resort to take this legal challenge," she said.

The strike prompted AA Roadwatch to issue advice about the expected impact on the roads, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to cars, trains where they can, bikes and taxis.

The dispute centres on a move last year by the National Transport Authority to open 10% of bus routes to private operators and to open more in 2019.

In a threat of High Court legal action last night, the chief executives of Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann said management have been forced to take unprecedented action and will seek damages for losses.

"This dispute is illegal and is totally without justification," they said.

This weekend is the first of a series of planned stoppages over the long-running dispute on workers' conditions on privatised routes, following talks stretching back to last July.

More than a million bus journeys are expected to be disrupted during the 48-hour strike, with Dublin Bus losing out on its 450,000 Friday customers and 400,000 Saturday customers and Bus Eireann not carrying an estimated 250,000 passengers.

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe has said the strike is unjustified and insisted no state-employed bus worker would be forced on to the payroll of a private operator.

Business lobby group Ibec called on management, unions and government to resume talks.

Maeve McElwee, the organisation's head of industrial relations, claimed the Transport Minister has addressed workers' concerns over potential transfer to private operators.

"The impact of this two day action on all businesses, but particularly those in retail, hospitality and tourism sectors on a bank holiday weekend is devastating," she said.

The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association accused unions of the "desperate and cynical act of a group unwilling to face up to the realities of how a modern transport system must operate".

Mark Fielding, chief executive, called for strikes to be banned in essential services.

"With continuous threats from unions involved in bus, rail, air transport and energy, it is high time that the Government legislated to guarantee strategic services and protect the public and the economy," he said.

Three TDs, Anti Austerity Alliance members Joe Higgins, Ruth Coppinger and Paul Murphy, claimed privatisation of bus routes is all about a race to the bottom both for the wages and conditions of transport workers and for the services used by the public.

"Rather than privatising bus services, public transport should be receiving increased support via increased state subsidies," they said.

"For example if the Dublin Bus subvention was increased to the average level provided for public transport in other European capitals it would receive an extra 175 million euro per annum."

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