Commuters face travel chaos and an all-out bus strike after talks between Bus Éireann and unions collapsed.
It comes amid warnings that the bus firm could be broke by May if it does not take emergency action, including €12m of pay cuts.
Pensioners, third-level students, and commuters who travel to work by bus are set to be left high and dry as an open-ended strike by Bus Éireann workers now appears imminent.
Unions said they will have no choice but to bring the country’s bus service to an indefinite halt if management implements a number of cost-saving measures which they had announced earlier this year, but had suspended pending the talks.
Both sides blamed each-other after discussions at the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) broke down during their third day. There are now fears that industrial action could spread to other sectors within the CIÉ group, including Irish Rail and Dublin Bus.
Bus Éireann said it could be insolvent by May if it does not shave around €12m off the pay bill and needs to save around €30m in total.
The company entered talks with a document containing a list of cost-cutting proposals and claimed there is significant scope for savings in overtime, rotas, spare driver arrangements, hiring buses, sick pay, bonuses, expenses, and flexibility.
However, unions representing bus workers claimed they would not entertain any of the suggested cuts and were only willing to engage on the area of ‘efficiencies’.
Leaving talks, acting Bus Éireann CEO Ray Hernan said immediate savings are needed to stop the company going bust in the coming months with the loss of around 2,600 jobs. Three routes — X7 Dublin- Clonmel; 021 Athlone-Westport and 833 Dublin-Derry — are to be axed as part of emergency measures which would achieve savings of €1.1m.
Other routes could see frequency of services stripped back and the company has said all routes would be kept under review, especially the loss-making Expressway.
It has been indicated that strike action could cost around €500,000 a day which would only exacerbate the financial crisis at the bus company.
Mr Hernan said: “What we need is immediate savings and we have already identified savings that will be achieved through the closure of a number of routes. We have also identified a reasonable number of non-payroll savings.
“However, there was going to have to be pain taken by our staff, I am sorry to be saying that but that is the inevitable situation that we were faced with.”
Siptu said its members are now set for strike action after “the failure of management to present a competent and credible plan”.
Siptu sector organiser Willie Noone said: “If Bus Éireann tries to force through cuts our members will have no option but to take strike action to save their jobs and protect public transport services.
“It is well past the time that the Minister for Transport, Shane Ross, and other shareholders sat down around the table and accepted their responsibility to avert the destruction of our public transport service.”
This was echoed by the National Bus and Rail Union general secretary Dermot O’Leary who said the “responsibility for major disruption across the transport network resides with the absentee minister and his department”.
A spokeswoman for Transport Minister Shane Ross last night said he was very disappointed that talks had been unsuccessful. She added: “The parties involved now need time to reflect. At the moment it’s between the management and unions.”
Mr O’Leary said National Bus and Rail Union members had been put on notice to immediately engage in an all-out strike if the company does go ahead with proposed cost-cutting measures which could result in pay reductions of 10% to 30% to workers.
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