PAUL MILLS: Without reform, the road is running out for State firms

It was fascinating last week to read of the Labour Party and Sinn Féin’s solutions for solving the problems in Bus Éireann. It was ‘back to the future’ writ large.

Their view would appear to be that employees in the bus sector should be covered by a binding overall deal covering both pay and conditions. Where do they get this from?

It appears that neither the ability of a company to pay nor its profitability has ever to enter the equation.

The thinking is simple: Private sector competitors should have to pick up Bus Éireann’s excess payroll costs. Sinn Féin apparently went even further and suggested that licenses to private operators be further restricted. The mind boggles.

Let’s restrict services that have to be profitable to survive and that deliver services that people want and use. That makes sense to nobody and certainly not to the customers of the bus services. It only makes sense to those employed in Bus Éireann, Iarnrod Éireann and CIÉ in general.

Unfortunately, that’s the way it is with many of the commercial semi-states firms. Rather than focus on the customers and how best to serve their needs and do it properly, their priority is to sort out the employees first.

Transport Minister Shane Ross has taken quite a bit of a drubbing for not intervening directly to solve the issue. After all, that’s the way it was always done.

The net result would be that the taxpayers would once again be asked to pick up the tab and it would be business as usual for the unions, but on better pay and perhaps conditions.

Much of the terms and conditions and the work practises come from a different time.

That was a time when customers took what they were given and were grateful for it. That is no longer the case, by and large. Unless a customer is satisfied with the product offered, he or she will go elsewhere. It’s as simple as that.

The airline industry is a case in point. Aer Lingus enjoyed a virtual monopoly and could charge what the market could bear.

Its unions blocked change at every chance they could get, supported by the Department of Transport, euphemistically known as the downtown office of Aer Lingus. Aer Lingus had two options: Collapse or change.

Change it did and it’s now in a totally different and profitable place.

Aer Lingus had no choice when upstart Ryanair came along with its brash CEO taking passengers to where they wanted to go. It’s now one of the biggest airlines in Europe.

An Post has said it will have a problem honouring its payroll next month without an increase in postal charges. This Government in succumbing to the pay demands of the gardaí and their tactics have guaranteed that a litany of pay demands will continue. Unions have been emboldened by the fragile nature of the Coalition.

Our politicians and unions seem to believe that the uncertain economic times will not affect their livelihoods. Little has been learnt from the economic collapse of 2008. Such ostrich-like behaviour is not in anyone’s interest.

Perhaps they all also need to read the same advice as Minister Ross and try a new way?

Perhaps, abolishing companies and services that can no longer pay their way might be a good place to start.


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