Transport Minister Shane Ross said he is “deeply concerned” at the impact the strike will have on the public but again stated it was up to unions and management — and not him — to solve the financial crisis at the firm.
Likewise Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe said: “Minister Ross has made very clear and I support him in this that the answer to dealing with the difficulties that are there is not always about making more money available.”
The five unions representing workers at Bus Éireann met for three hours yesterday to discuss a letter sent to staff outlining a list of cost-saving measures which the company will be implementing immediately.
In response they announced an all-out strike, which began at midnight, and has brought all services services apart from school buses to a stop.
Bus Éireann said it is “extremely disappointed” that the strike had been called, claiming it will cause “major inconvenience” to customers and “exacerbate the perilous financial situation at the company”.
The company will lose €125,000 in State funding for every day that the strike continues because it will not be providing public service obligation (PSO) routes it is contracted for.
Bus Éireann said losses for the first two months of this year were 41% higher than the same period last year — and losses in 2016 were €9.4m.
“The company is facing insolvency in a few short months and not acting to implement cost savings urgently would be completely irresponsible,” it said.
In a statement the company said it had twice postponed the introduction of efficiency measures to allow for 10 days of talks in two separate sessions at the Workplace Relations Commission.
“We sought savings of €12m from a payroll of €133m — or 9% — but unions were only prepared to cede €0.5m on the current overtime bill of €13m,” it said.
“The efficiencies we are seeking to introduce relate to work practices, which must be put in place if the company is to have a viable and sustainable future.”
However, the National Bus and Rail Union said management was simply trying to “drive a state-owned company into becoming a yellow-pack employer”.
Siptu’s Willie Noone accused the bus company of having an alternative agenda “to prepare the company for the future privatisation of public bus services”.
Ibec warned the strike will impact on business and called on all sides to sit down and iron out a solution.
Maeve McElwee, director of employer relations at Ibec, said: “The sensible path forward is for the two sides to this dispute to sit down and iron out a solution; everyone knows that the company is in a very severe financial situation. It is in no one’s interest to follow a path of industrial action.”
Irish Rural Link said the short notice given by unions means people living in rural Ireland will not be able to make alternative travel arrangements.
A Translink spokesperson said cross-border services operated by Bus Éireann will also not be operating but Translink’s Goldline coach services will continue to run.