Belfast Telegraph

Strike looms at Bus Eireann after talks collapse

An all-out indefinite strike at Bus Eireann is on the cards after talks on a cost-cutting plan collapsed.

Union chiefs accused company management of pursuing an agenda of low wages after insisting savings of 12 million euro (£10 million) were needed immediately or the business would go bust in May.

Bus Eireann have proposed shutting three loss-making services - the 833 Dublin to Derry, the X7 Dublin to Clonmel and the 021 Athlone to Westport - to save more than 1m euro (£850,000).

Other routes could be kept but the frequency of services stripped back as the company revealed losses of 9.4 million euro (£8 million) for last year and 1.5m euro (£1.2 million) for January alone.

They are also looking at rewriting rotas, shifts, overtime, spare driver arrangements, hiring buses, sick pay, bonuses and expenses.

Unions said they are waiting for management to announce changes before any potential strike action is taken.

Dermot O'Leary, general secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU), said a strike was inevitable if Bus Eireann unilaterally imposed pay cuts.

"The crux of the breakdown of negotiations was the company maintained the line that they wanted to turn this company into a low wage operator," the union chief said.

"We will not negotiate reductions in the terms and conditions of our members."

Talks began at the Workplace Relations Commission on Friday and reconvened on Monday and today.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, which represents mainly lower paid clerical staff in Bus Eireann, accused management of going through the motions.

"Their management, if you can call them that, haven't got a clue about their business," he said.

Mr Cortes said Bus Eireann proposed closing two garages but only named one and proposed a new nightshift but had no detail where staff would work.

"Their attempts at negotiations were a farce whose aim was not to make an agreement possible," he said.

"Sadly, it's passengers and our members who will pay the very heavy price for their spectacular managerial failings."

Amid the breakdown of talks Taoiseach Enda Kenny said free travel for pensioners is not under threat and that state transport chiefs may step in with alternatives if rural routes are closed.

Mr Kenny said: " Rumours or perceptions of the free travel scheme being taken away are false."

The free travel scheme allows everyone aged 66 or over, and others who meet certain criteria, to receive a card that entitles them to take the bus, train and Luas without paying.

Bus Eireann gets up to five euro (£4.20) for each passenger it carries under the scheme. The average fare is 11 euro (£9.30).

Bus Eireann said last year's losses had been forecast to be 6.8 million euro (£5.75 million) , but swelled by almost 3 million euro (£2.5 million) due to third-party claims, declining revenue, bus hire issues, overtime and absenteeism.

Bus Eireann accused the unions of refusing to negotiate any changes to terms and conditions, insisting on a pay rise and seeking compensation for staff who seen overtime cut in the past few weeks.

It said on average, drivers are paid for 9.4 hours a day, with 1.6 hours overtime, while they only drive for 5.5 hours.

"The taxpayer is paying excessively for the services currently provided," the company said.

Bus Eireann confirmed it will go bust by May unless the financial issues are sorted, including payroll savings of 12 million euro.

"Immediate reductions in cost and improved efficiency are absolutely necessary to address the financial crisis," it said.

Unions repeated calls for Transport Minister Shane Ross to intervene.

Willie Noone, Siptu negotiator, said: "We know there's an onus and responsibility to stay on the pitch for talks for as long as feasible. We don't want to strike. But we do know that if the company goes ahead and implements changes then that's going to trigger a dispute."

Mr Noone also claimed Bus Eireann was threatening school bus drivers' employment security.

He added: "If Bus Eireann tries to force through cuts, our members will have no option but to take strike action to save their jobs and protect public transport services."

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