Driver union refutes ‘illegal’ strike claims

As a second day of bus strikes gets under way, a driver union has hit back at claims the action is illegal and warned that any legal action by the bus companies will only harden the resolve of members.

As hundreds of thousands of commuters were forced to turn to alternate transport yesterday, driver members of the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) and Siptu mounted pickets at depots across the country.

Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus issued proceedings with the High Court against the two unions for damages incurred during what it maintains is an illegal strike.

In a letter to the chief executives of both bus companies, as well as Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe and National Transport Authority chief executive Anne Graham, the NBRU referenced the legal action and said that “attacking workers and their representatives can only but lead to a hardening of your staff’s resolve”.

It said an “agenda” of issues had been raised at the Labour Relations Commission nine months ago on the tendering of 10% of public bus routes to private operators.

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” said NBRU general secretary Dermot O’Leary.

“ It behoves all of the stakeholders, on both sides of the debate, to collectively address the issues on the agreed interlocked agenda.”

The two bus companies defended their decision not to lodge the legal action earlier.

“Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus wished to exhaust every avenue of talks and discussion before embarking on a legal action as a last and final resort,” they said.

“We remained optimistic that there would be a breakthrough and aversion of the strike, right up until the breakdown of exploratory talks at the LRC [on Thursday evening]. It was only then that the decision was finalised to initiate a legal challenge.”

Kieran Mulvey, chief executive of the LRC, said he believed most of the industrial relations issues at stake could be resolved, but that there was “crossover” in the context of giving certainty, surety, and clarity from everybody’s point of view as to what will happen in the period 2017-19 when the tendering process is finally completed.

“I have seen sufficient amount of information and paper and it’s a question really now of concentrating all our energies to ensure that the five other days that are scheduled for dispute do not happen,” he said.

“We did say to the parties that we are prepared to engage in an intensive period of negotiation over the next seven to ten days to prevent these strikes from taking place.”

Mr Mulvey told RTÉ radio that more constructive engagement with the parties could give clarity on a lot of the issues and “hopefully” give reassurances.

“What cannot be done is a reversal of Government policy,” he said. “The commission is not in the business of deciding legislation or policy. That is a matter for the Oireachtas and Government of this country. But I think the consequences of those policies where they have an industrial relations or an employment implication — then that is our business and our remit.”

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