The sides are in a talks process: Workplace Relations Commission officials have indicated they think there is scope for a breakthrough —but is there really any chance that Dublin Bus strikes won’t resume in time for the All-Ireland football replay this Saturday?
The sides entered a second day of talks yesterday with a yawning gap still between their positions. Driver unions Siptu and the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU), have overwhelmingly rejected a recent Labour Court decision recommending 8.25% increases over three years.
Yet to date, in the absence of workers agreeing to productivity measures, that has been the totality of what the company has been willing to offer. The workers, meanwhile, want increases of at least 15% over the same period, as well as the payment of a 6% increase which they say they are due from 2008. There has also been a call from the NBRU for pay parity with Luas drivers, who were given increases amounting to 18% following a dispute with management earlier this year.
The task for the Workplace Relations Commission to move two such disparate opening gambits to some form of centre ground is more than a little unenviable. In rejecting the Labour Court recommendation in full, the unions ruled out going into talks on further productivity, though it is still very much possible that whatever deal emerges will contain additional productivity concessions. One also has to question how pay increases are to be funded by Dublin Bus given the events of the last few weeks.
In its public utterances the company has frequently raised the toll the numerous 48-hour stoppages have taken on its accounts.
More than two weeks ago, it wrote in a release to the media that: “The continued industrial action by Trade Unions and employees is costing the company in excess of €600,000 each day. These mounting costs further diminish our ability to fund the 8.25% recommended by the Labour Court.”
Then last week ahead of last weekend’s stoppage, it said; “The stoppages to date have cost the company over €4m and the two day stoppage this week will cost an additional €2m and leave the company in a loss making position by the end of 2016.” Throughout, Dublin Bus has repeatedly stressed that it has only achieved financial stability in “recent years”.
External factors weigh heavily on the current talks process, not least the aforementioned Luas settlement. As soon as an 18% increase for workers in a private sector transport company was confirmed, unions in the national public transport provider said staff were “deserving of a flat no strings attached pay award at least in line with the public transport sector norm set by the Labour Court in the Luas dispute”.
That argument was compounded by a claim in some quarters that the role of a light rail driver was much less taxing than that of a bus driver with infinitely more interaction with the public as well as the job of piloting a much larger vehicle.
Furthermore, the two unions at the heart of the Dublin Bus dispute also represent drivers at its sister company Bus Éireann. There, staff have been told that, not only are they to miss out on any pay increase, but also that its loss-making Expressway service would be restructured and separated into a separate subsidiary with staff on lower pay and conditions.
In the face of such a hit for their members Siptu and NBRU will see the current Dublin Bus talks as an opportunity to set the tone for the battle which now appears inevitable at Bus Éireann.
As of this morning, the sides have barely 72 hours to find an accommodation. Otherwise 400,000 members of the public will once again find themselves looking for alternative transport arrangements repeatedly throughout October. More immediately if there is no resolution by the end of Friday, tens of thousands of Mayo and Dublin fans will be flooding into a city which will struggle to deal with them.
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