Strike latest at CIE group as companies seek to introduce financial restructuring
Dispute could escalate if no resolution
Striking bus drivers pictured outside Dublin Bus Ringsend Garage in Dublin City. Pickets have been placed on all Dublin bus garages in the city.Photograph: Aidan Crawley
The strike at Dublin Bus is the latest fallout from attempts by companies in the broader CIÉ transport group to introduce financial restructuring in the face of reduced State subvention, rising fuel prices and falling passenger numbers.
Several weeks ago services at Bus Éireann were disrupted briefly as a result of industrial action over the implementation of a Labour Court recommendation on planned cuts. Ultimately, following an intervention by the Labour Relations Commission, a modified deal was agreed.
Proposed cost saving reforms at a third CIÉ company, Irish Rail, are currently going through the industrial relations process.
Management at Dublin Bus has maintained that changes set out in a Labour Court recommendation to generate savings of €11.7 million are necessary to bring the company back into profitability next year.
Unions have argued that the measures are excessive, coming on top of cuts introduced in 2009 which reduced the earnings of workers.
Under the Labour Court proposals the core pay of the 2,300 drivers at the company would not be affected. However, overtime rates would be cut while premium payments for Sunday work and for working rest days would be scaled back from double time-and-a-half to double time.
Clerical staff at the company would have to work three additional hours per week and see annual leave reduced. Management and executives would have a pay cut of between 3 and 5 per cent.
Unions have contended that, under the Labour Court recommendation, drivers would lose €94 for every bank holiday worked, and €35 for every rest day worked.
As things stand, it appears that the strike at Dublin Bus is going to continue – and could escalate by the middle of this week if there is no resolution.
The obvious solution would appear to be for the Labour Relations Commission to intervene in the next day or so as it did in the Bus Éireann dispute.
However, the timing of any intervention would be critical and all parties would have to be in the space for doing a deal.
A number of highly-placed sources have suggested that inter-union rivalry at the company could complicate matters.
It is also possible that the Labour Court could offer to “tweak” its earlier recommendation following further engagement with the parties. If so, this issue would have to be clarified in advance of any Labour Relations Commission intervention.
If there is no third-party intervention or if intervention is tried and fails, the prospects would then grow for an escalation in the dispute.
Senior union sources have warned that rail workers could take action by the middle of the week if the Dublin Bus dispute drags on.
Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar said yesterday such a move would be unlawful, as no strike ballots on this issue had been conducted.
However, while union leaders may not authorise strikes on the railway, unofficial or “wildcat” action could take place.
If the Dublin Bus dispute were to continue for a protracted period – unlikely as this may be – the repercussions for the company could be serious. It could face financial penalties – have some of its subvention forfeited – for failing to deliver on its contract with the National Transport Authority.
For the unions, there are also consequences. The current dispute could affect their campaign for reforms giving them greater collective bargaining rights. Senior political sources last night argued that the strike was “undermining” the case for changes, which is to be considered by Cabinet later in the autumn.