Passengers are facing chaos as Bus Éireann workers are set to stage an all-out strike, writes Elaine Loughlin.
And there are now fears the industrial unrest could spread to other public sector workers including Iarnród Éireann and Dublin Bus.
Bus unions have agreed to take indefinite industrial action from February 20, if management impose planned cuts to allowances, overtime, and premium rates.
After meeting yesterday, bus unions said the company had been given “ample opportunity” to respond to requests to withdraw a series of proposed cuts to allow talks between both sides begin.
Transport Minister Shane Ross expressed disappointment at the plans for strike action and said it would be “very damaging to the travelling public, the workforce, rural communities, and the company itself”.
He once again renewed his call for both the company and the trade unions to engage in negotiations without any pre-conditions.
Mr Ross has come under attack this week for refusing to intervene in the Bus Éireann crisis after repeatedly arguing it was an industrial dispute and does not fall under his control.
Fianna Fáil’s transport spokesman Robert Troy again hit out at the minister last night stating: “Any attempt by Minister Ross to simply wash his hands of responsibility for finding solutions to the crisis is simply not credible.”
Responding to the planned action, Bus Éireann acting CEO, Ray Hernan, said he is “more than willing to hear any alternative proposals they have for achieving savings of €30m”.
Bus Éireann is suffering massive losses on its commercial Expressway services and lost around €9m overall last year.
The company, which currently only has €7m in reserves, says it will go bankrupt, with the loss of 2,600 jobs, before the end of the year, if significant cuts cannot be made.
However, staff representatives have claimed that a series of proposed cuts, due to be implemented from February 20, amount to preconditions for talks and have demanded they be withdrawn before negotiations begin.
Mr Hernan said he would be willing to meet with unions today or over the weekend but added that the necessary efficiencies must be found within the company because it is a long-term solution and not a short-term fix which is required.
Dermot O’Leary of the National Bus and Rail Union said: “There is an opportunity here of two weeks for the company to come to their senses and step back from the brink, at this stage the onus is on that company and the CEO of that company to set those preconditions aside.
“If he does that we are quite willing to go in as a group to meet him and his colleagues.”
In a combined statement after their meeting, the bus unions said they decided to go ahead with the strikes, which will coincide with the roll-out of pay cuts, in “response to this appalling and unprecedented attack”.
“It was clearly felt that Bus Éireann, by setting out on a course for major confrontation with workers, have also decided to ignore the wishes of the majority of those democratically elected to Dáil Éireann, not to unilaterally impose changes without the agreement of from its own staff,” their statement read.
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.