Updated: 14/03/17 : 05:54:34
Printable Version   Bookmark and Share Share This

current

Bus drivers' strike talks break down over earnings

The country once again faces the the prospect of serious travel disruption across the country in the weeks ahead as the crisis talks between trade unions and management at Bus Éireann broke down last night, Monday.

The talks aimed at  resolving the financial state of the company through work practice changes and efficiency measures had been underway at the Workplace Relations Commission since last week.

They broke down following disagreements over proposed cuts to earnings.

Strike action by the drivers would see Sligo public transport system in chaos with all inter-city services cancelled, all town and rural services cancelled and because Sligo's bus depot is one of six nationwide which shares some facilities with Irish Rail, train schedules would be expected to be severely curtailed.

The talks were part of a deal earlier this month which saw an all-out strike averted just 30 hours before it was due to begin. See link below

Speaking last night after the talks collapsed, union sources told The Irish Times that, while they had been prepared to engage extensively with the company on an “efficiency-based agenda” that would take place within a concentrated timeframe, they were not prepared to countenance any immediate cut to members’ take-home pay.

Meanwhile, Bus Éireann said it was extremely disappointed at the breakdown in the talks.

However, the State-owned transport company blamed the unions for the collapse of the process.

The company said: “Given the seriousness of our financial position, we always had a very tight timeframe to implement actions, but we nevertheless engaged in good faith to facilitate intensive discussion, with the aim of reaching a negotiated settlement with trade unions.

“Despite their public pronouncements about engaging on addressing the high level of inefficiencies, there has been no flexibility shown during our engagement on efficiency measures.”

Safeguard

The company said that, while inefficiencies at the company had been acknowledged and accepted by unions, “there was a refusal to accept any reduction of earnings, including unnecessary overtime earnings”.

The company said its management team would now report to the board of Bus Éireann “to urgently re-assess what further action is now appropriate, and necessary, to safeguard the organisation and the service we provide”.

Union sources said there was no date scheduled for any further engagement with management.

The prospect of industrial action by unions is likely to depend on the stance of management in the days ahead.

Unions had previously warned that any move by management to introduce cuts to staff earnings without agreement would trigger an immediate all-out strike.

Bus Éireann management signalled earlier this month that the company was on the brink of insolvency and that its financial problems could come to a head by May.

Management said the company had lost more than €9 million last year and about €1.5 million in January.

Overtime

The company had withdrawn controversial proposed cuts to staff overtime rates, premium payments and shift allowances to facilitate the talks at the Workplace Relations Commission. In return, unions deferred a planned strike.

As well as securing agreement with unions representing the firm’s 2,600 staff on efficiency measures and work practice reforms, the company had sought in the talks to ensure the implementation of previously-agreed deals across the company.

It is understood that one of the sticking points in the talks was objections by unions to proposed restrictions on access to overtime - as distinct from cuts in overtime rates - which also would have the effect of reducing earnings for staff.

The Irish Times reported earlier this month that the broader CIÉ group had confirmed it was prepared in certain circumstances to provide financial support to assist Bus Éireann in dealing with its financial problems.

Bus Éireann is one of the subsidiary companies in the CIÉ group.

The group said at the beginning of March that “the CIÉ board - subject to the existing and future CIÉ group financial position and banking facilities, the regulatory environment and significant savings being generated by Bus Éireann - would consider any Bus Éireann business plan which secures the long-term viability of the company and envisages a financial role for the CIÉ holding company”.

In addition to financial support, it is understood that the CIÉ group would also consider looking at providing funding for a voluntary redundancy scheme at Bus Éireann.

There have been fears that any strike action at Bus Éireann could spill over into the other CIE companies - Dublin Bus and Iarnrod Éireann (Irish Rail).

Link : Sligo Today 4/3/2017