Dublin Bus talks likely to involve tweaking of original Labour Court recommendations

Company expected to insist €11.7 million in savings still be delivered

Cyclists on the North Strand Road, Dublin, yesterday  as the bus strike continued for a third day. The lack of buses was  felt acutely  as workers returned to the city after the bank holiday weekend. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Cyclists on the North Strand Road, Dublin, yesterday as the bus strike continued for a third day. The lack of buses was felt acutely as workers returned to the city after the bank holiday weekend. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Wed, Aug 7, 2013, 01:00

New talks aimed at resolving the dispute at Dublin Bus are expected to centre on “tweaking” the original Labour Court recommendation issued in June for dealing with the financial difficulties in the company.

These proposals, which staff rejected, were aimed at generating savings of €11.7 million including €7.7 million in the area of pay.

It seems certain that when the new talks resume today, management at Dublin Bus will insist that any revised deal will have to produce similar savings overall.

State funding
It seems equally certain that the Government will not agree to soften the blow for workers by providing additional State funding to the transport company.

The trick in the new negotiations will be to come up with measures that will prove more palatable to employees while not leading to major slippage on the cost savings.

The original Labour Court recommendation ruled out any cuts in core pay for staff. However, earnings from overtime and premium payments faced reductions while some grades would have seen additional working hours and cuts in annual leave.

While there could be some small shifts in these areas as part of the new talks, it is difficult to see any wholesale changes emerging.

Reforms to overtime, premium payments and the working week all featured in the Haddington Road process for staff in the public service in recent months while they have also faced changes to sick-leave and annual-leave arrangements over recent times.

However, there are other areas that could be examined as part of the new talks process at Dublin Bus.

The trade union Siptu last night pointed to the need for staff to have greater “certainty” if there was to be an overall resolution .

One area where greater certainty could be sought is in relation to the duration of the proposed cuts.

Back to profitability
The Labour Court recommendation had said they should remain in force for 19 months or until the company regained profitability.

Anecdotally, there appeared to be scepticism among staff that this deadline would be met by management. A stronger affirmation that the cuts would be reversed after 19 months might go some way to dealing with employees’ concerns.

Other areas that received limited attention publicly, but that were apparently of significant concern to drivers, were proposed changes to travel time and lunch break arrangements.

At present drivers clock in for their shift in garages but frequently have to travel to pick up their bus in the city centre or at another location.

Clocking in
Management wanted drivers to effectively clock in on the bus without first going to the garage and to spend the time currently spent travelling to pick up the bus driving passengers.

Management also proposed curtailing lunch breaks by up to 10 minutes in cases where buses were running late, in a bid to keep the schedules moving.

The three-day strike at Dublin Bus and the two-day stoppage at Bus Éireann in the early summer are also likely to focus attention in parts of the Government on the overall issue of industrial action in key public services.

The potential for industrial trouble on the railways in the autumn, where staff have rejected a cost-saving programme, is also likely to be of concern to some in the Government.

In 2010 Fine Gael in opposition proposed legislation to prevent strikes in air-traffic control services. Only several months ago, the employers’ group Ibec proposed new laws to stop strikes disrupting key public services.

It is highly unlikely that the Government will look at banning strikes in essential public services.

However some senior political sources have suggested privately in recent days that Labour Court recommendations in disputes involving essential services could be made binding, as is the case for staff in the public service under Croke Park/Haddington Road.

Croke Park
Of course under Croke Park/Haddington Road there are also guarantees provided by the Government against job losses and further pay cuts, issues that are to the fore of many in the State transport companies who are fearful about possible route privatisation in the future.

The trade union movement is pressing the Government to introduce legislation in the autumn to provided greater collective bargaining rights. Some at Cabinet may propose reforms in industrial relations in essential services as a quid pro quo.