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Transport Minister urged to take control in Bus Eireann strike dispute

Trade union leaders have accused Transport Minister Shane Ross of dodging his responsibilities as the Bus Eireann strike reaches its sixth day.

About 2,600 workers walked out last Friday following a long-running dispute with management over threatened 30% pay cuts and warnings that the company was being driven into insolvency.

Unions have since warned that the chaos may spread to all state-run transport, with other bus and rail workers being asked to vote in support of Bus Eireann employees.

Willie Noone, Siptu's sector organiser, called on the minister to make an effective intervention in the dispute.

"The current strike action is in response to a management attempt to force through changes to workers' terms and conditions of employment without any agreement," he said.

"The changes, which management stated it intended to immediately implement in a letter to workers on March 22, would have resulted in a loss of earnings of up 30% for many Bus Eireann workers."

Mr Noone issued the call as striking workers took to the streets outside the Dail.

Siptu said it would take part in "meaningful negotiations" to bring about "far-reaching change and improvements in the public bus network".

"For these talks to be effective, the minister must establish a process that allows for direct input from the National Transport Authority and the Department of Transport as well as management and workers' representatives," he said.

Mr Noone called for talks to be arranged at the Workplace Relations Commission, but that agency's industrial relations mediators normally only intervene if there is a sense that the opposing sides in a dispute can reach some common ground.

"Siptu members in Bus Eireann want a solution to the current dispute and to return to work as soon as possible," he said.

The unions involved in the strike include Siptu, the National Bus and Rail Union, Unite and the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA), which represents many of the lowest paid clerical staff in the company.

Mauel Cortes, TSSA general secretary, challenged the minister and Taoiseach Enda Kenny to meet workers outside the Dail.

"I've been with my members on picket lines across Ireland since Monday. In Dublin. Cork, Limerick and Tralee, wherever I've been, the determination is strong but the unnecessary anxiety being caused to workers and their families by their own government is outrageous," he said.

Mr Cortes claimed the Government was conspicuous by its absence in the dispute.

Mr Ross was questioned at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport over his handling of the dispute where he insisted he would not intervene while workers are on strike.

"I want to see this crisis resolved," he said.

"There are those on the committee who believe that a ministerial magic wand can resolve an industrial relations dispute. I've willingly intervened in those areas that are appropriate for me to intervene in."

The crisis at Bus Eireann was due in part to losses in the Expressway commercial business and the competition with private operators running faster intercity services.

Mr Ross said his department was considering options to reform licensing regimes and more money for the free travel scheme and additional money has been offered for Bus Eireann's public service obligation contracts.

"But I will not be dictating to management and unions about their internal issues. I will not be involved in discussions about how the company organises itself. These are areas for agreement between management and unions," he said.

"If they require external assistance then the expert advice of the Workplace Relations Commission and Labour Court can help them."

Mr Ross said he expects an announcement "fairly soon" on revised funds for transport companies carrying people with bus passes after the payment was frozen at about 20 million euro more than five years ago.

Bus Eireann workers went on all-out strike on Friday.

The company lost six million euro in 2015. It is estimated to have lost up to nine million euro last year and management have warned it will go bust unless it radically reforms.

On Monday, Bus Eireann said it could not sign off on accounts or set a budget for the year ahead - as is required - because of the deepening crisis.

The bosses also warned a voluntary redundancy scheme - which was expected to shed about 300 jobs - could not be funded without a financial plan in place.

Bus Eireann is estimated to be losing 500,000 euro a day in the strike while more than 100,000 people who use the state bus company every day have been left sourcing other transport.

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