Updated: 14/04/17 : 04:51:38
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Bus strike pickets lifted while drivers balloted on Labour Court recommendation

All pickets by Bus Éireann workers have been lifted after a recommendation to end the three-week dispute was issued by the Labour Court, according to the General Secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union.

Dermot O'Leary told RTÉ News that as he understands it, drivers are returning to work immediately.

Mr O'Leary said once Bus Éireann can make it operational, there will be a full transport services available.

He added that the Labour Court recommendation is comprehensive, adding that the court was faced with an unenviable task.

Mr O'Leary said NBRU members will consider the recommendation and then vote on it, with the result expected to be known in a number of weeks.

RTÉ reports that in a statement yesterday afternoon, Bus Éireann said management and the company's Board will give "due consideration to the very detailed Court recommendation document."

It added that the "key focus now is on the resumption of normal services as soon as possible," saying services may resume in some regional cities this evening but the majority of services will not be operational until tomorrow morning at the latest.

The Labour Court had been considering the issues in the dispute over cost-cutting measures after talks broke down at the Workplace Relations Commission earlier this week.

SIPTU Sector Organiser Willie Noone said that the recommendation needs to be studied by every union member and consider the consequences of accepting or rejecting it.

"SIPTU representatives will endeavour to ensure all our members are fully informed prior to balloting on the recommendation," he said.

The company had told the Court that it is currently insolvent, according to the recommendation issued yesterday afternoon.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross welcomed the fact that services are returning to normal.

Mr Ross said he hoped the recommendation would "provide the basis for a lasting agreement between the company and its employees and will ensure a successful future for Bus Éireann."

He also said he will establish a Public Transport Stakeholder Dialogue (PTSD) in order to advance the commitment within the Programme for a Partnership Government to instigate a review of public transport policy.

Labour Court Chairman Kevin Foley describes this assertion as being of the "gravest significance" for those who work in Bus Éireann, adding that the court must give such a contention the most serious consideration.

However, it acknowledges it must also give the most serious consideration to the effect of the proposed changes on Bus Éireann employees.

It notes there is little point in making a recommendation which would ensure that the company went out of business, or that did not give staff an opportunity to maintain sustainable employment on fair and reasonable terms into the future.

Recommendation includes pay cuts and redundancies

Mr Foley recommends a number of measures including some pay cuts, voluntary redundancies, work practice reforms and depot closures in a bid to restore the financial viability of Bus Éireann.

For the key driver grade, Mr Foley says that a minimum of 120 drivers take voluntary redundancy over the next 12 months, though that could rise depending on the level of full-time work available in each depot.

He advocates a composite rate of pay for drivers that will compensate for "all and any duties associated with the drivers' role".

He says that rate should be:

    Year one of service: €17.37
    Year two of service: €18.28
    Year three of service: €19.20
    Year four of service: €20.11

Bus Éireann has noted that the average length of service for drivers is 15 years, so most would be on the highest composite pay rate of €20.11.

Unions had originally sought a rate in excess of €23.00, while the company was offering €19.20.

All back office roles will be centralised, resulting in 48 redundancies among clerical grades, most of whom will also face an 18-month increment freeze.

The senior executive team of 116 will lose 22 posts, as well as working an extra three hours a week, and having an increment freeze for 18 months.

All executives earning over €60,000 will see a pay cut of 10%, and will forfeit four leave days.

The role of inspectors will change, and the number of inspectors will fall from 118 to 93.

Maintenance staff will be expected to work more flexibly. Part-time seasonal drivers will be used to plug inefficiencies and facilitate redundancies.

Staff must also cooperate with new technology and other changes.

Mr Foley notes that a fundamental element in the overall context is that over time, since the implementation of previous agreement, the optimisation of efficiencies has not been fully achieved.

While accepting that Bus Éireann must address its current cost base, Mr Foley said it is recognised that Bus Éireann will maintain premium terms and conditions of employment.

Core terms and conditions will be maintained.

Significantly, no additional rationalisation or restructuring will be proposed by the company before 2019, when there is the possibility that the National Transport Authority may put additional routes out to public tender.

There is a mechanism to provide some compensation for loss of earnings.

There is also a proposal for the establishment of a forum comprising all relevant stakeholders to work towards addressing the challenges facing Bus Éireann and public transport policy generally.

Mr Foley said that while the court has no role in this aspect of policy, it can endorse the proposition that such a forum has the potential to bring a clarity to factors affecting the company such that effective planning within the company can minimise the risk of a crisis of this nature emerging in the future.

Mr Foley also stressed the need to improve service efficiency and assure service continuity for customers.

Meanwhile, SIPTU members in Dublin Bus voted in favour of taking industrial action in support of their colleagues in Bus Éireann.

SIPTU Organiser John Murphy said the drivers grade voted by 67% in favour of industrial action.

Mr Murphy confirmed that executive and clerical grades had voted no, but said the drivers, engineering operatives and craft grades had backed their Bus Éireann colleagues.

The union is holding a similar ballot of members in Iarnród Éireann, with the result expected on 21 April.

See also : Sligo Today 14/4/2017