Bus passengers face the prospect of major disruption to services just days into the new year as strike action looms at Bus Éireann.
The company has told staff that, having failed to reach agreement on a new cost-savings plan, it is to press ahead with a number of measures which will cut overtime rates and shift payments, increase working weeks, and cut holiday entitlements from Jan 13.
Unions say their members will not accept such a “dictatorial” stance and are to be balloted for industrial action almost immediately.
Michael Faherty, secretary general of the National Bus and Rail Union, which represents 1,200 Bus Éireann drivers, said that action will be “strong enough to prevent management from implementing the changes without agreement”. Mr Faherty would not be drawn on the exact form the action will take.
Last June, Bus Éireann announced it was seeking €20m in savings, €9m of which it wanted to generate through changes to staff terms and conditions. At the time, it said it was facing potential annual losses of €16m due to a combination of factors including a 20% drop in passenger numbers; new competitors who could “cherry-pick the best element of routes”; and a €4m increase in fuel costs in 2012 alone.
Since June, the company has been in talks with its unions at the Labour Relations Commission. It now claims the unions have made it clear they do not want to negotiate on the substantive issues that will deliver the biggest savings.
“In recent days, they have also rejected the opportunity to participate in a Labour Court hearing on these matters that had been requested by Bus Éireann,” said a spokesman.
“The level of potential losses must be addressed in order to protect services and jobs and ensure the company can continue to invest in providing a quality service.
“As it is imperative that the company make the required savings, there is now no option but to implement changes to employees’ terms and conditions. It is regrettable that these steps have to be taken, however they are necessary in order to protect basic pay and jobs.”
From Jan 13, there will be a number of changes to staff terms and conditions including:
* A reduction of overtime rates from 1.5 times to 1.25 times
* An increase in the working week for clerical and executive staff from 36 hours to 39 hours
* A reduction in shift, premium, and rota payments
* A reduction in annual leave entitlement by three days for three years
* A range of allowance and expense payments will be reduced by 33.3%.
Mr Faherty said if his members ballot in favour, industrial action will be triggered by any attempt to introduce any of the measures without agreement.
He said there are seven or eight other measures being proposed by Bus Éireann management which have not yet reached the LRC.
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