Varadkar calls on union to make viable proposals to avert Bus Éireann strike

Additional buses to be drafted in by private operators to cope with extra demand

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar (right) has called on the National Bus and Rail Union to make ‘concrete and viable’ proposals to avert strike action at Bus Éireann. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar (right) has called on the National Bus and Rail Union to make ‘concrete and viable’ proposals to avert strike action at Bus Éireann. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Fri, May 10, 2013, 21:35

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar has called on the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) to make “concrete and viable” proposals to avert all-out strike action which is due to start at Bus Éireann from Sunday.

A spokesman for the Minister said immediate action was needed “to secure the company for the passengers who depend on its services and for its employees”.

The NBRU – the largest union at State-owned Bus Éireann – warned of an all-out strike at the company from Sunday after management said a Labour Court recommendation aimed at generating savings of €5 million would be implemented.

The company said the cuts were necessary to ensure viability and to protect jobs. But the union – representing 1,100 of the company’s 2,500 workers – said members stood to lose between €3,000 and €4,000 a year.

The minister’s spokesman said the Government “continues to engage closely with management”.

“The company remains open to engaging with the unions, should the unions wish to make concrete and viable proposals to deliver vital savings,” he said.

He said there had already been 11 months of deliberations and the State’s arbitration machinery has been fully utilised.

“The Labour Court has made clear that unless these savings are implemented, the company’s future is in jeopardy,” he said.

Bus Eireann spokesman Andrew McLindon accused the NBRU of engaging in an “illegal and unofficial” strike.

“Our intention is to operate as many services as we can but obviously the NBRU are going to put unofficial and illegal pickets on our depots on Sunday morning.

“Under the Industrial Relations Act, they have to give us seven days notice of any strike action and the NBRU have not done that.”

NBRU Secretary General Michael Faherty said he was “utterly amazed” at that accusation.

“We gave them notice. The managing director got a letter from us on the first of this month exactly spelling out in clear unambiguous terms exactly what would happen.

“We sought and got a mandate from our members in January to engage in industrial action if the company were to change the terms and conditions of employment without agreement – and that’s exactly what they’re doing. We gave notice then and we gave notice in the last week.

Mr McLindon said he was not in a position to predict the level of disruption that would be faced by customers.

“The issue we have in terms of informing our customers is that the other trade unions – principally Siptu – have not come out and said whether their members are going to pass the picket.

“So we are in a position where we cannot inform our customers completely what level of disruption we face.”

He denied that the company were imposing the cuts unilaterally. “That’s not the situation. On the terms and conditions changes, we’ve entered into extensive lengthy negotiations with the trade unions over nearly a year including two sessions at the Labour Relations Commission and two days of full hearings at the Labour Court.

“At the end of that process and exhausting all the State’s industrial relations mechanisms we have a Labour Court recommendation for €5m in savings – that’s not what we were seeking but we were happy to take it.”

Private bus companies around the country have begun to prepare for the strike.

James McGinley, chief executive of the Coach Tourism and Transport Council, said his members are expecting to see an increase in business .

Mr McGinley said people travelling home from Dublin for the weekend – including students – are unlikely to buy a return ticket with Bus Éireann that they may not be able to use on Sunday evening so many will opt to travel with private operators .

He said his members cover “pretty much the whole country” and will attempt to accommodate as many Bus Éireann customers as possible, though their primary concern will be their own regular customers.

While there were no coaches “sitting around doing nothing”, companies would have one or two vehicles on standby for emergencies and may also be able to take steps such as doubling up on trips, he said.

Mr McGinley said his own company, servicing Donegal and Derry, would be bringing in extra operators to help with demand.