Update 2.30pm: Siptu has condemned a plan released by the National Transport Authority (NTA) which the union says envisages the replacement of Bus Éireann services by private bus operators on vital routes across the country.
Drivers are due to go on all-out strike next Monday unless agreement can be reached between staff and management.
Siptu's Willie Noone said: “With this plan, which effectively assists the replacement of Bus Éireann services with others run by private for profit bus operators, the NTA has revealed an agenda which is clearly supportive of the privatisation of transport services.
“On four of the five routes on which the management of Bus Éireann has selected to cut or severely curtail services the NTA states that it has already issued enough licences to cover their continuation by private operators. This reveals a long-term plan to undermine public services for the benefit of private operators."
The union said that the Minister for Transport, Shane Ross, "will have to open his chequebook" to help private operators run the bus service between Westport and Athlone, for instance.
Mr Noone added: “The NTA, Shane Ross and Fine Gael are clearly intent on cooking up a recipe for driving down all bus workers’ pay and conditions of employment, both private and semi-state. In the long run, they will leave the travelling public exposed to private sector monopolies which will force up prices over time. This outrageous attack on the whole concept of an effective and efficient public transport system will be opposed by our members across the country.”
Update 1.51pm: The National Bus and Rail Union (NRBU) has today criticised company management, the Government and the National Transport Authority regarding plans to close three bus routes.
An all-out bus strike is planned for next Monday unless agreement can be reached between staff and management.
“The notion that bus workers would actually be party to discussions that would lead to the elimination, or at best a diminution, of vital Bus Services into rural Ireland, clearly illustrates the disconnect between Bus Éireann management, their own staff and the communities they serve,” said NRBU General Secretary Dermot O’Leary.
“It is simply appalling that people that rely on this public service would learn of its imminent disappearance through the media.
“Those commuters, the taxpayers, are entitled to ask if their route 7, Clonmel to Dublin, route 21 Athlone to Westport and route 33 to Derry is of a lesser value than the other twenty-one routes that Bus Éireann operate across the country.
“It should of course be understood that the current regime at Bus Éireann are simply doing as they are being told to do, asking people to believe that these route closures were not sanctioned by the Department of Transport and the NTA, is akin to asking people to believe that Shane Ross is actually the Minister for Transport, it is long since passed time when those that are elected to protect vital public services should act in the interests of the communities they purport to represent and cry halt to these route closures”
The National Transport Authority responded, saying that it is ready to put forward proposals to retain services on routes affected by cost cutting measures at Bus Éireann.
However, the NTA has also urged all parties to use the next few days to return to the negotiating table and engage in talks, to avoid Monday's threatened strike.
The National Transport Authority Chief Executive Anne Graham said: “When the prospect of reductions to Expressway services was raised recently, the NTA said that we would step in, establish the extent to which these changes gave rise to gaps in public service coverage, and bring forward proposals to fill those gaps.
“Today, we are doing precisely that, and we believe that what we are putting forward will retain connectivity and retain services along the effected corridors.
“Should it be the case that the solutions we are bringing forward require some amendment or adjustment, we will of course respond positively to any feedback that we receive.
“The Authority has assessed Bus Éireann’s proposed changes and has determined that overall, there are enough existing services to meet demand. The exception is the withdrawal of Route 21 from Westport to Athlone where we have determined that there is a public service obligation and where we are considering amending an existing PSO service to meet that obligation.
“There remains some time and space over the coming days, for the parties to resolve this dispute. I would urge them, for the sake of the travelling public to use this opportunity to get around the negotiating table and engage with each other, so that passengers are not unnecessarily inconvenienced.”
Update 12.36am: Fianna Fáil has called on the Transport Minister to get his chequebook out to help solve the Bus Éireann dispute, writes Elaine Loughlin, Political Reporter.
With an all-out bus strike going ahead from Monday, Minister Shane Ross has been urged to get involved by "stepping up to the plate and doing his job".
Fianna Fáil transport spokesman Robert Troy said Mr Ross has so far "chosen to do nothing" but claimed the Minister now has a "responsibility" to get involved before the country's bus service grinds to a hault.
"The €30m deficit that has been identified, that gap is not going to be closed simply between management and unions, the Government, the Department of Transport and the NTA also need to get involved.
"If we want a proper, fully functioning, integrated public transport system, it does need to be paid for."
He said a review of how commercial licences are awarded must be carried out. He also called on increased funding form the Department of Social Protection towards the free travel scheme.
Mr Troy added: "There are a number of Express routes that are never going to be commercially viable but they do need to be maintained because they do keep connectivity within the regions."
He said some Expressway routes should be changed from commercial operations to Public Service Obligation (PSO) routes, which would then received State subsidies.
Bus Éireann has announced that it is to axe three of its Expressway routes as part of a package of cuts and cost-saving measures, a number of other routes will see services reduced.
"We don't want to see Expressway routes cut because of their non-profitability and no service put in its place," Mr Troy said.
He said he hoped that unions and management would go back into talks at the Workplace Relations Commission, but said Mr Ross and his Department would also have to take part in talks.
Former Transport Minister Noel Dempsey says if he was Shane Ross he'd intervene in the Bus Éireann dispute.
So far the current Minister has refused to be drawn into the cost-cutting argument, despite threats by unions to go on all-out strike from Monday.
Bus Éireann has told workers it is axing routes between Dublin and Derry, Clonmel and Westport within weeks while services between the capital and Limerick and Galway are being curtailed.
Management is adamant they are necessary "due to the perilous state of the company's finances and the failure to reach agreement with unions" in its row over a survival plan for the beleaguered carrier.
The "immediate cost savings" are to be implemented next Monday.
With no end in sight to the dispute, Noel Dempsey was asked if Shane Ross needs to join in talks.
"Perhaps trying to get people to use the mechanisms of the State, yes, I would be saying that to both sides,
"I have no doubt that is it being said, if not directly by Minister Ross, that it's certainly being said by his officials.
"We are heading towards an abyss, the company's heading towards an abyss."
Fianna Fáil's spokesman on Transport Robert Troy said that Minister Ross needs to start doing his job.
"The Minister has the responsibility," he said.
"There are major structural changes ongoing at Bus Éireann, and that's not going to be sorted between the unions and the management exclusively.
"That's going to need his input, it's going to need his department's input and it's going to need the input of the NTA [National Transport Authority]."
Minister Ross has called on both sides to engage in further talks to resolve the dispute.
However, general secretary of the NBRU Dermot O'Leary said that the Minister and his colleagues in the Independent Alliance need to do more.
"Instead of spending the time on the plinth of Leinster House, looking for soundbites for issues that may be important to lots of people, they should get themselves into their constituencies, in lots of cases, and explain to those people who elected them to protect their social services why there are three routes under threat and two more are going to be scaled back.
"That's an appalling indictment of those people."
Before a parliamentary committee last month, Ray Hernan, acting chief executive at the State bus company, said it lost between 8 and 9 million euro last year, and had only 7 million euro left in reserves.
Mr Hernan said Bus Éireann will be insolvent by the end of this year - on its 30th anniversary - with the loss of all 2,600 jobs unless an emergency survival plan is agreed.
He also indicated staffing costs other than basic pay, such as overtime shift allowances, rota allowances and lunch expenses, will come under the axe in a root and branch cost-cutting review expected in March.
Absenteeism, which is double the national average, will also have to be tackled, he told the hearing.
Mr Hernan said Bus Éireann's board of directors has until the end of March to sign off on last year's accounts but it would not be able to do so unless there is a drastic and decisive rescue plan in place before then.
Unions claim cost-cutting measures being proposed by the company will result in effective pay cuts of up to 30%.