Bus Éireann strike Q&A: Why has it come to this?

Potential for ‘contagion’ with Iarnród Éireann and Dublin Bus becoming involved

Who will be affected by the strike in Bus Éireann?

About 100,000 people use Bus Éireann services each day. From Friday morning all the company's services, with the exception of school transportation, will come to a halt. This will include city services which the company provides in Cork, Limerick, Galway, and Waterford, the commercial inter-city Expressway services and other local services it runs under a State subsidy.

About 1,500 children who travel to school daily under the school transport programme using regular Bus Éireann services will also be hit by the dispute.

Bus Éireann carries an additional 114,000 children daily under the school transportation scheme. While they will not be affected, trade union Siptu warned last Friday that school transport services could become embroiled in the work stoppage "very, very quickly" .

Bus Éireann said on Thursday that services operated by GoBe.ie, Eurolines and cross-Border routes run by Translink should not be affected.

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Could the strike spread?

Yes. There is potential for "contagion" with workers in Iarnród Éireann and Dublin Bus becoming involved.

Seven Bus Éireann facilities around the country are shared by rail staff working for Iarnród Éireann.

The trade unions representing staff in Bus Éireann have no dispute with either Iarnród Éireann or Dublin Bus.

Management sources say that in previous disputes, pickets were placed in such a way as to allow workers in companies not involved to enter and leave shared premises without them having to cross picket lines.

However, it remains to be seen whether that will happen on this occasion and if pickets are placed whether staff in Iarnród Éireann or Dublin Bus will pass them.

What is the dispute about?

The dispute centres on how the financial difficulties in Bus Éireann should be addressed.

The company has argued that its financial position is critical.It lost over €9 million in 2016 and says it is facing insolvency within a couple of months unless remedial action is taken.

The company has also stated that the rate of its financial losses are accelerating sharply.

The Government insists the root cause of the dispute is major losses being incurred by the commercial Expressway services operated by Bus Éireann which are facing intense competition from private operators who have a lower cost base.

What does the company want to do?

Bus Éireann told staff on Wednesday that it would be unilaterally implementing nearly 50 cost-saving efficiency measures and work practice changes.

Unions have objected to any survival plan being imposed without agreement. They also contend that even though the company argues that core pay will not be affected, the measures – including restricted access to overtime – will see earnings fall by up to €10,000.

Why are there no talks taking place?

There have already been two rounds of talks at the Workplace Relations Commission. However, both were unsuccessful.

The company says that unions were only prepared to accept a loss of “ad hoc” overtime which amounts to less than €500,000.

Unions say this should not be dismissed if the agenda is only to tackle the deficit at Expressway.

The company told staff that given the unions’ position, there was no basis for convening any further talks.

Do unions fear there is another agenda at play?

Unions argue that the real aim of company management is to lower the cost base in a way that will improve its chances of retaining existing routes when they are put out to tender in the years ahead under Government plans to reform the bus market. They see this as a race to the bottom.

Why is the Minister not involved?

Minister for Transport Shane Ross has consistently said he would not be intervening.

“I have made it absolutely clear that my intention during the dispute is to keep as far away from it as possible and to leave it to the two parties involved”, he told the Dáil this week.

He said that while he, as shareholder, would have a role in dealing with any structural reform that may be necessary, he would not be intervening in an industrial dispute.

Unions argue that the Bus Éireann dispute centres on Government policy and the Department of Transport, and the National Transport Authority should also be at any negotiating table if an overall resolution is to be found.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent