LATEST: Shane Ross 'disappointed' as Bus Éireann talks collapse

Update 7.50pm: The Minister for Transport Shane Ross says he is disappointed at the breakdown of today's Bus Éireann talks.

With unions warning of strike action if the company pushes ahead with cuts, Minister Ross says all parties must now take time to reflect on the issues at hand.

Management today accused unions of having no interest in resolving the financial crisis at the company, while unions say looking for an immediate €12 million euro in payroll cuts was an impossible demand.

The NBRU's Dermot O'Leary is warning the dispute could spread to Dublin Bus and Irish Rail.

Update 6pm: Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Transport Robert Troy says the Government needs to work with the trade unions to try and prevent strike action at Bus Éireann.

"I do accept that there is going to need to be changes on behalf of the unions and there will need to be greater efficiency achieved.

"Efficiencies alone is not going to be able to bridge this problem, there's major structural reforms needed in Bus Éireann."

Retail Excellence has called for an immediate solution to resolve the impasse as they said retail sales could plunge by up to 60% once strike action is implemented.

Commenting on the situation Lorraine Higgins, Head of Public Affairs and Communications, said: “Our offices have been inundated with phone calls from retailers this evening expressing significant concern as to the impact of a potential strike on footfall and retail sales activity.

"An immediate solution needs to be found and Minister Shane Ross needs to take a lead in resolving the matter... The matter is a national embarrassment and with continued threats of industrial unrest this could very well lead to many of our international retailers rethinking their investment strategy for Ireland which would be very damaging to Ireland Inc."

Update 5.16pm: Management at Bus Éireann have warned that it will press ahead with "necessary steps" needed to avoid insolvency, which they claim could happen as early as May.

Following the collapse of talks at the WRC today, management also criticised unions, claiming that they have "refused to negotiate on terms and conditions".

"The company has attempted to negotiate with the unions and has put every conceivable issue on the table without pre-conditions in an effort to address the financial crisis and ensure longer term competitiveness," a Bus Éireann statement read.

"The unions response to date has been to refuse to negotiate any change to terms and conditions, insist on a pay rise and seek compensation for staff who may have had a reduction in overtime earnings over the last few weeks.

"The company cost structure is inefficient with drivers on average being paid for 9.4 hours per day (1.6 hours of this at overtime premium rates) when they only drive for 5.5 hours on scheduled services. The tax payer is paying excessively for the services currently provided.

"What is clear at this stage is that the unions have no intention of reaching an agreement which will address the financial crisis.

"At current run rates of losses, the company could be insolvent by May.

"Immediate reductions in cost and improved efficiency are absolutely necessary to address the financial crisis. These initiatives must result in payroll savings of €12m now.

"The unions have refused to negotiate on terms and conditions which means that the insolvency issue cannot be addressed. Re-structurring is essential for longer term competitiveness but will not address the immediate insolvency crisis.

"We will now seriously consider our position and advise our staff in due course of the necessary steps which must be taken to avoid insolvency."

Update 4.30pm: The NBRU has accused Bus Éireann of deliberately collapsing the talks process after meetings with management today failed to reach any settlement.

General Secretary Dermot O'Leary said that Bus Éireann are not prepared to engage in discussions on efficiencies at the company.

"This Company has abused the industrial relations institutions of the state on a number of occasions over the last number of weeks, culminating in turning up at the WRC this week ill-prepared to fully engage in a manner which would subscribe to a possible solution."

O'Leary said that it seems that demands placed on Bus Éireann by both the CIÉ Group and the shareholder is a recipe for "travel chaos".

The NBRU has notified its members that the NBRU will engage in an all-out strike "in the event that Bus Éireann move to unilaterally implement cute to the terms and conditions of bus workers".

O'Leary also said that the responsibility for major disruption across the transport network resides with the "absentee" Minister and his department.

Update 11.30am: The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) has called on the Government to provide support in relation to discussions on Bus Éireann.

"It is quite clear at this stage that a resolution to the Expressway crisis can only be found if the Government, in the guise of the Department of Transport and the NTA provide the necessary support to ensure that the Bus Éireann issue does not drift into a catastrophic transport dispute with the very real potential of spreading across vast swathes of the CIÉ Group resulting in national gridlock," said general secretary Dermot O'Leary.

The union is concerned particularly about maintaining services in rural areas and protecting the Free Travel Scheme.

"It is simply not good enough that the Minister for Transport, as he recently suggested, would tell the people of rural Ireland that their future services will be less frequent and less comfortable than that which they currently enjoy."

Dermot O'Leary

Earlier: Unions and management at Bus Éireann return to talks at the Workplace Relations Commission later.

Management has outlined €30m in savings - which it says are vital to save the company.

The NBRU and Siptu say they will not accept the reduced pay and conditions being proposed.

Dermot O'Leary of the NBRU says a strike is on the cards, unless management change their approach.

"IF the company persists with these negative interventions - and by that I mean stuff about a race to the bottom, trying to become a low wage operator to compete with the rogue employers out there - then obviously if they maintain that position we're heading for an inevitable strike," he said.


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