Transport Minister Shane Ross is proposing a radical scheme to offer share options to 11,000 CIE employees, in order to “give them a few bob” and make them feel better.
Mr Ross said that the CIE companies — Irish Rail, Bus Éireann, and Dublin Bus — are “unviable financially” without the State subvention of €255m each year.
It is understood that the proposal has angered Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and his officials but Mr Ross is pushing ahead with it.
Mr Ross, who has been a longstanding critic of CIE from his time as a journalist and as an Opposition TD, says that, by allowing staff to have some ownership of the company, they can share in any future success.
However, he has said that, should the companies produce what he called a “synthetic profit” once the subvention is factored in, then staff should share in the rewards.
Mr Ross has asked New Era (the Government’s New Economy and Recovery Authority) to examine the feasibility of such a scheme, and that report is due to be discussed at Cabinet shortly. He said the move would help to greatly improve morale among workers in the three companies.
“I think there is potential in saying to them, those in all three companies: ‘Look, you have the base subvention which will continue and increase, but if over and above that you have a synthetic profit, you start making money, there is no reason why you shouldn’t share in that.’ ”
Asked about his motivation for such a proposal, Mr Ross said it is to tackle low morale in the CIE companies.
“Because morale was very bad in the companies a year ago, during the strikes,” said Mr Ross. “We have got to increase it.”
Mr Ross has explicitly ruled out any suggestion that moving to an option scheme such as this would end up in privatisation.
“We will look to see how we can give these guys a stake in the companies without it being privatisation, which it won’t be. We don’t want that. No question about that,” he said emphatically.
As to the viability of the CIE group, as a long-time critic of how it was run, Mr Ross was clear about its chances to survive without annual taxpayer-funded support.
“CIE is not going to make a profit in the true sense of the word and it is going to continue to be subvented,” said Mr Ross. “It is certainly not viable in the sense it is not going to be commercial, make a profit.”
Responding to Mr Ross’ suggestion, Dermot O’Leary, general secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU), said the spirit behind the proposal is one to be worked on.
He said that, on one level, it is “bizarre” that the minister, as shareholder, would not realise that these companies do not make a profit, but the notion behind aiding workers, particularly in Bus Éireann, in improving their pay is welcome.
Mr Ross has also confirmed that despite requiring huge State subsidies, Irish Rail will not be closing down any of its current rail lines, even the much-maligned Limerick to Ballybrophy line.
The line is costing €550 per passenger to operate, a 2016 report found.
“Ballybrophy is a very controversial area but there are no plans to close any lines,” said Mr Ross. “It is doing better and all three companies took on more passengers last year. But we have no plans to close rail lines or anything like that.”
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