There has been a potential breakthrough in the ongoing dispute at Bus Éireann this afternoon.
It has been confirmed that both sides have agreed to talks at the Labour Relations Commission at 8pm tonight, aimed at breaking the impasse over Bus Éireann's plans to impose €5m worth of cuts this year.
It is not clear at this stage whether the action will be suspended during the LRC discussions.
"The company and the two unions who we've managed to contact so far will be in the Commission today at eight o'clock," said the LRC's director of conciliation services, Kevin Foley.
"We're still in the process of making phone calls to two other unions, but NBRU and SIPTU, as far as we understand it, have responded positively to the Commission's invitation."
Only 5% of the company's services are running today as the NBRU warns the rolling strike could spread to Irish Rail and Dublin Bus.
"Bus Éireann has said this afternoon that it has accepted an invitation from the Labour Relations Commission for talks with the trade unions commencing at 8 p.m. tonight," said a brief statement from the company.
"These talks will take place without preconditions on any party to the talks."
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar earlier reiterated calls for trade union leaders to reopen negotiations with the bus firm and rejected claims he has issued any instructions to company management.
The action, being led by National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU), centres on a row over €5m in payroll savings and is losing the firm €200,000 a day.
Minister Varadkar said the offer of mediation was a positive development.
“All sides need to work together to secure the future of services and jobs at Bus Eireann, and I am glad to see this happening,” he said.
“I encourage both parties to reach a speedy resolution.
“This will be the third time that the LRC has mediated in this dispute.
“It is essential for the survival of Bus Eireann that on this occasion an agreement is reached and implemented quickly.”
NBRU bosses had warned that workers will strike until the company shelves the pay cuts plan or opens negotiations on new proposals without any preconditions.
Bus Éireann said it hopes the move will avert the damaging strike action before it enters a third day tomorrow.
It said it has been updating its website for customers every hour, but admitted the vast majority of its 300 commuter, city, inter-city, and provincial services have been cancelled nationwide.
Services for almost 114,000 school children are expected to operate as normal.
Elsewhere, Siptu called on the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to convene an urgent meeting of all unions with workers in parent company CIE.
Its shop stewards will meet in Liberty Hall, Dublin, tomorrow to discuss the Bus Eireann action and concerns about similar cuts to Dublin Bus and Irish Rail.
Sector organiser, Willie Noone, said he believes union members will also overwhelmingly support strike action when ballots are counted on Thursday.
“The dispute at Bus Éireann concerns attempts by management to reduce workers’ core pay, shift pay and allowances, while also reducing their overtime rates and holiday entitlements,” he said.
“Workers have also expressed concern over medium term plans by management to cut sick pay.
“All these changes are being forced through on lower paid staff members while no similar reduction is envisaged for management grades.”
Bus Éireann is seeking a 20% cut to a range of allowance and expense payments, a reduction of overtime rates, longer working hours and a cut in shift payments.
It maintains the measures, which have already been recommended by the Labour Court, are vital for the survival of the company and security of 2,500 jobs.
The Government has also warned the bus firm lost €27m over the last five years and would not be financially viable if it does not impose cuts.
Junior transport minister Alan Kelly said the latest set of talks can create the space for the company to be saved.
“The losses are severe and Bus Eireann’s future viability is under threat,” he warned.
“This is one of the most serious situations ever facing the public transport system in the history of the State.
“This is not easy for any side, workers or management.
“I would encourage all sides to use this time wisely so that the company’s financial situation is addressed and the public have access to transport.”