Bus firms’ legal action an ‘attempt to intimidate’ workers

NBRU and Siptu contest Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus claim that strike is illegal

Dublin Bus drivers  at the annual May Day demonstration, which coincided with the two-day strike. Siptu and the NBRU have strongly contested claims that their strike action is illegal. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Dublin Bus drivers at the annual May Day demonstration, which coincided with the two-day strike. Siptu and the NBRU have strongly contested claims that their strike action is illegal. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

The National Bus and Railworkers’ Union (NBRU) has accused Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus of seeking to intimidate members, in order to prevent them striking, by initiating legal actions to recover financial losses caused by the dispute.

The two State-owned bus companies yesterday issued proceedings against the NBRU and Siptu aimed at recouping the cost of lost revenue and of fines expected to be imposed by the National Transport Authority as a result of the cancellation of services. These costs could run into millions.

The companies have contended that the strike is illegal but this claim has been strongly rejected by the NBRU and Siptu.

In a letter sent yesterday evening, solicitors acting on behalf of the NBRU maintained that the existence of the trade dispute between the unions and the companies was not in doubt.

“Our client elected to ballot its members on foot of the decision to privatise existing public bus services and the implications this could have for members’ terms and conditions of employment.”

The letter said the decision to privatise routes had the potential to expose members of the union “to a diminution of their terms and conditions”.

Pension rights

“By way of example, the proposed action will have an effect on the affected employees’ pension rights.”

The NBRU’s legal letter said the companies had given no specific instance of illegality in its action.

“There is no basis whatsoever to your contention that our client has engaged in unlawful action,” it states.

“Your threat to issue High Court proceedings for damages is nothing more than an attempt to intimidate our client’s members from exercising their statutory, constitutional and European convention rights to withdraw their labour in an attempt to persuade their employer to comply with their demands.”

Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus said taking legal action had been a last resort.

Legal letter

In a legal letter to the unions on Thursday the companies said the decision to put out to tender 10 per cent of their routes had been taken by the National Transport Authority, which was implementing Government policy.

The letter said Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann had “ no power or responsibility to introduce or alter such plans in any way”. NBRU general secretary Dermot O’Leary said the legal action being brought by the two bus companies would only harden the resolve of striking workers.

The companies have maintained they would experience revenue losses of about €3 million as a result of the 48-hour strike which halted services yesterday and today.

In addition the National Transport Authority is expected to impose fines of €150,000 on Dublin Bus for every day of lost service, and €80,000 on Bus Éireann.

The employers’ group Ibec said yesterday the industrial action would cause massive, unnecessary disruption to the travelling public and businesses alike. It urged the parties to return to talks.

“Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Paschal Donohoe has addressed the workers’ industrial relations concerns regarding the potential transfer of employees to operators in the private sector.

The remaining issues are questions of public policy and as such are not appropriately advanced under the protections of the Industrial Relations Act, 1990.”