Bus drivers to stage one-day strike on February 28th

 

Drivers at Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann are to hold a one-day strike at the end of the month, followed by a two-day stoppage in March in protest at proposed cutbacks at the companies.

The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU), which represents 3,200 workers in both companies, will hold its first stoppage on Saturday February 28th and the two-day stoppage on March 9th and 10th. This stoppage, falling on Monday and Tuesday, will hit thousands of commuters around the country if it goes ahead.

The strike dates were announced this afternoon after a special meeting of the union’s executive council. Some 88 per cent of union members yesterday backed a proposal for industrial action, up to and including full strike action if the companies press ahead with restructuring plans.

NBRU general secretary Michael Faherty said the one-day stoppage this month was to coincide with plans by the companies to cut job and said he would be “very surprised if there wasn’t full support from Siptu”. Such support would mean a complete shutdown of bus services in the capital and around the country during the strikes.

Dublin Bus is planning to cut the number of jobs by 290, including 160 drivers, and intends to reduce its fleet by 120 buses. Bus Eireann is planning 322 redundancies, including 110 drivers and a fleet reduction of 150 vehicles.

The two State bus companies say they are facing losses of more than €30 million each this year unless corrective action is taken.

The companies say the economic downturn has led to a sharp decline in passenger numbers and that their restructuring plans are designed to return both companies to a break-even position by the end of 2010.

Both bus companies intend to implement the first phase of their cutback plans at the end of the month by terminating the employment of some 160 probationary drivers and making a further 110 contract drivers redundant.

The NBRU wants the companies to instead introduce a voluntary redundancy scheme for existing drivers as a prerequisite for entering into talks on the cutback proposals.

Mr Fahterty said the company was targeting new drivers on probation “as an easy option to introduce cuts is an unfair and lazy way to make savings”

“In the present economic crisis we should be investing more in public transport, not less. The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport has recommended increasing the Dublin Bus fleet by 350 vehicles to beat congestion, not reduce numbers,” he added.

He said the probationary drivers involved had no prospect of alternative employment and many have taken on extra commitments such as mortgages, thinking they had secured stable employment.

“Instead they are being threatened with the dole, ironically swelling the numbers dependent on public transport,” he said.

“We hope that in the time available before the first stoppage the company will reconsider its current strategy and engage with us more constructively.”

After the strike dates were announced today, Dublin Bus said it was facing a “very serious and challenging financial position in 2009 which it must take urgent action to address. It said it had “no choice but to implement the Cost Effectiveness Plan on March 1st 2009. “It is regrettable that the Trade Unions have chosen to take this action; however, the company remains available to have intensive discussions prior to that date,” it added.

A spokesman for Bus Éireann said it "regretted" the union's plan for a strike saying talks with unions had not started. "It will have financial implications for the company when we are already in a precarious position," he added.

Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey said a strike would "solve nothing".

"It's time that CIE Unions and Management sit around a table and quickly work out how to provide a top quality, customer focused bus service for the public. The sooner they do that the better for everyone.

"If CIE continues this year without reform it will rack up losses of almost €100m. Reform is critical," Mr Dempsey added.

Mr Dempsey is to appear before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport tomorrow morning to discuss the recently published report on reviewing cost and efficiency at Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann.

The report includes a number of recommendations on increasing bus usage and how the expansion of subcontracting could benefit Bus Éireann.