Varadkar says outlook for Dublin Bus ‘stark’ without deal

Minister for Transport asks drivers to agree to final proposals

 Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar: welcomed final proposals designed to end the dispute.  Photograph: Alan Betson

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar: welcomed final proposals designed to end the dispute. Photograph: Alan Betson

Wed, Oct 16, 2013, 21:10

The outlook for Dublin Bus and its employees is “very stark” if a final effort to resolve a dispute over cost-savings at the company does not succeed, Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar and the Minister of State Alan Kelly have said.

The Ministers welcomed the publication of final proposals by former trade union official Noel Dowling and management consultant Ultan Courtney designed to resolve the dispute over cost-savings and urged drivers at the company to accept them.

The dispute over cost-saving plans already led to a three-day strike at the company in August.

Drivers at Dublin Bus have rejected a number of initiatives over recent months aimed at delivering savings of around €11 million at the State-owned transport company. Other grades of staff have accepted the proposals.

The Ministers said yesterday that the Dowling and Courtney report pointed to uncertain outcomes and some of the difficult options that were being considered if there was no resolution to the dispute on cost-savings.

“If a strike happens, it will be prolonged and it will be very difficult to bring to an end given that all processes have been exhausted. Regardless of how it might end, quite frankly there will be no winners - all sides will be worse off. This is why the response has been so measured and every avenue explored. However, we have to recognise that if Mr Dowling and Mr Courtney’s recommendations are not accepted, no realistic alternatives exist. Unfortunately, more than a year’s negotiation, through all of the industrial relations machinery of the State, has identified no other solution to the financial challenges facing the company. We are hopeful that this final intervention will be successful in reaching an agreed solution,” the Ministers said in a statement.

Siptu, which represents about half of the drivers in the company said yesterday that it was meeting Mr Dowling and Mr Coutrney on their report. It said it would be balloting its drivers on the Dowling/Courtney proposals next week.

The Dowling Courtney report said the strike in August had “damaged the reputation and revenues of Dublin Bus and did not resolve the issues between the parties”. The report says a further dispute would probably be more protracted, “only finishing when one or both sides has lost more than they have gained”.

In their statement yesterday Mr Varadkar and Mr Kelly said the attempts to agree cost reduction measures at Dublin Bus had “clearly been long and difficult, the process having started in June 2012”.

They said they commended the grades within Dublin Bus that had already accepted the measures.

“Every effort has been made to reach agreement with the drivers. These efforts have now gone beyond Labour Relations Commission intervention and Labour Court hearings and there has been a huge push on behalf of all stakeholders to address drivers’ concerns. “

The Ministers said all sides understood and had accepted that the financial challenges facing the CIÉ group required cost savings that were “fundamental to the group continuing to fund its activities and service its borrowings”.

The Ministers said Mr Dowling and Mr Courtney had worked independently “in an honest attempt to address the concerns of drivers”.

“We ask the drivers to agree to the final proposals that have been made in the interests of the company, Dublin Bus workers and the travelling public.

“We are clear, however, that the outlook for Dublin Bus and its employees is very stark if this final effort does not succeed.”

The report says that both union and management at Dublin Bus accepted that the company was in a financial crisis. The parties were frank and open in talking about the potential scenarios that could arise in the absence of an agreement such as a lengthy strike resulting in an orderly closure of Dublin Bus.

Other scenarios raised included Dublin Bus seeking the protection of examinership or being placed in receivership by its creditors. The fast-tracking of privatisation was also recognised as an option for the Government as was the extension of the FEMPI-style (financial emergency) legislation to semi-State companies.