Bus firms to sue driver unions as strike begins

As driver strikes force hundreds of thousands of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann passengers to turn to alternative travel arrangements for two days, all sides in the dispute are under pressure to find a resolution which will avoid another five days of stoppages this month.

Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann confirmed they are taking legal proceedings against the two driver unions, Siptu and the National Bus and Rail Union, for financial losses and reputational damage incurred through industrial action, which they claim is illegal. They say they face losing millions of euro in revenue as well as fines from the National Transport Authority for failure to provide a service to the public. They hope to secure a hearing in the High Court today.

NBRU general secretary Dermot O’Leary said it was “unfortunate” that the companies had gone down that route. He said that, as far as his union was concerned, the drivers’ action constituted a genuine trade dispute.

Last-minute mediation at the Labour Relations Commission failed to find any impasse to the dispute over the tendering out of 10% of public bus routes to private operators.

After the talks broke down after two and a half hours, LRC chief Kieran Mulvey said: “Our view is there is no basis for formal intervention by the commission at this stage. Regretfully it would appear the industrial action is going ahead. The commission, after this period of industrial action, will remain available to the parties if they wish to return to the negotiating table.”

The companies criticised the unions for what Bus Éireann called a “completely unwarranted and disproportionate walkout” from the LRC talks.

Dublin Bus said it carries 450,000 customers on a Friday and 400,000 customers on Saturdays and that the strikes would result in “substantial” revenue losses of €600,000 per day.

Bus Éireann said the decision to strike would impact the daily lives of customers as well as the financial security of the business and the wider economy.

“It will result in the loss of an estimated 250,000 passenger journeys and €1.5m in revenue,” a spokeswoman said.

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe said that, as he had confirmed no current employee of the companies would have to transfer to another operator if their current employer was not successful in tendering for the routes, there was no industrial-relations basis for strike action by either union.

Mr Donohoe questioned the legitimacy of the basis for the strikes, saying: “The unions have not called off the strikes and have sought to justify the disruption they will cause to the public, and the damage they will cause to the companies, by reference to a range of issues which have already been addressed or which relate to Government policies and legislation which are entirely outside the control of the companies and therefore not a valid basis for legitimate industrial action.”

Mr O’Leary said after the LRC hearing: “Despite our optimism at what the minister has said over the last few days, the optimism wasn’t met by any substantial contributions from the other parties in the debate.”

Siptu construction and utilities organiser Owen Reidy said: “After months of talks, the bus companies have refused to meaningfully engage with Siptu members on their six-point agenda which outlines their concerns over the proposed privatisation plans.

“In the face of this intransigence, our members have been left with no option but to embark on a campaign of industrial action which will cost them financially and cause severe inconvenience to the travelling public which they are proud to serve.”

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