Bus strikes: 100% travel chaos over a 10% dispute

Talks aimed at averting a two-day strike at Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus broke down at the Labour Relations Commission yesterday which means that hundreds of thousands of commuters face travel chaos this weekend.

The drivers have planned a series of strikes over the intended privatisation of a tiny minority of routes.

While the drivers have understandable concerns that the current pay and conditions they enjoy could be eroded over time by privatisation, the size of the proposed change is small and in inverse proportion to the scale of the industrial action.

Talks on the route tendering plan at the Labour Relations Commission had been under way for several months but collapsed at the end of March.

The intention is to put only 10% of the routes out the tender and that process is unlikely to be fulfilled until 2019. Both Bus Eireann and Dublin Bus will also be eligible to tender for those routes so, in all likelihood, privatisation will involve somewhat less than ten per cent and might never, in fact, come fully into effect.

Yet, the action the unions, SIPTU and the NBRU, are taking is 100% - a total shutdown. That’s 100% of a nightmare for those relying on public transport to get to work and 100% loss of revenue for both companies. Both companies will lose over €10 million from this 48-hour strike which could, ultimately, be far more damaging to the drivers than the very limited privatisation of routes.

It will also affect a fair percentage of tourists in Ireland who may have planned to use the services of either company to enjoy their holiday here. Coming, in what can only regarded as a cynical exercise, on the bank holiday weekend, it will also spoil time off for tens of thousands of people and cause widespread dismay among workers, many of whom enjoy far less favourable conditions than the strikers.

The strike is also questionable given that the drivers have now received a Government guarantee over their concerns. It is hard to disagree with Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe who insists there is no rational reason for the bus strike to go ahead.

On Tuesday the minister said that no driver currently working for either company would be forced to move to a private operator even if Dublin Bus or Bus Eireann lost the right to run a particular route in the tender process.

Earlier this week he made an intervention in the dispute, ensuring that any employee in one of these companies that would be tendered will not be asked to transfer unless they want to. That is the heart of the issue and should, at least, have been enough to get the strike called off, pending further negotiations. Prior to the talks breaking down, the National Bus and Rail Union said it believed his intervention could have resulted in a basis for further talks.

To make matters worse, bank holiday travellers face further transport misery with Irish Rail works and taxi fare increases adding to the chaos caused by the bus strike. It will be no surprise if there is a public backlash against the drivers.

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