Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann set to sue trade unions for losses

Industrial action set to run for 48 hours over Friday and Saturday after talks break down

SIPTU members in Broadstone and Phibsboro were on strike from 4am over privatisation of the service. Commuters across the city faced disruption to their routes. Sorcha Pollock reports.

 

Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann is set to sue trade unions for losses incurred as a result of the 48-hour strike at the companies on Friday and Saturday.

The State-owned transport firms have sent legal letters to Siptu and National Bus and Rail Unions (NBRU) stating that if the planned industrial action goes ahead they would “have no alternative but to issue proceedings immediately against you seeking damages for the losses suffered”.

The move came as hundreds of thousands of bus passengers face travel disruption after last-minute talks to avert a planned 48-hour strike at Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann broke down.

The Labour Relations Commission had invited unions and management at the two State-owned bus companies to take part in exploratory discussions at lunchtime.

However the process ended after 2½ hours without agreement.

Members of Siptu and the National Bus and Rail Union at Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann are set to commence a 48-hour strike from midnight.

The Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe said the industrial action was action “unjustified”. The companies said the industrial action was reckless and illegal.

No justification

In a statement, Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann said the two-day strike by Siptu and the NBRU was not a legal trade dispute and had no justification.

The said they were not taking action directly against their employees, but were however seeking to recover losses from the two unions.

The legal letter sent to the trade unions said if the companies were unable to provide a service to the travelling public on the dates in question “then they will be potentially subject to fines running to hundreds of thousands of euro by the National Transport Authority, together with the loss of potentially millions in fare revenue”.

‘Reputational damage’

The letter said the companies would seek “compensation for such losses to include compensation for the reputational damage that will inevitably be suffered by my clients as a result of your industrial action”.

Dublin Bus said it normally carried 450,000 customers on a Friday and 400,000 customers on Saturday. It said it would lose revenue of €600,000 per day for Dublin Bus. This would be in addition to any fine imposed by the National Transport Authority for failing to provide a service funded by its State subvention.

Bus Éireann said the strike would result in the loss of an estimated 250,000 passenger journeys and €1.5 million in revenue.

Five further days of industrial action are planned for the weeks ahead.

The chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission Kieran Mulvey said after the meeting the parties that it considered there was no basis for a formal intervention in the dispute.

The dispute centres on plans by the National Transport Authority to put out to tender 10 per cent of routes operated at present by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann.

Mutual blame

Unions and employers blamed each other for the breakdown of the exploratory talks at the Labour Relations Commission.

Siptu utilities division organiser Owen Reidy said management at the bus companies had put forward “nothing new” at the last-minute talks.

He said the union had required substantial movement on its six-point plan for dealing with the consequences of the privatisation of bus routes.

“Unfortunately the window of opportunity we have had has not been taken. And it is with regret that the strike proceeds. “

“After months of talks the bus companies have refused to meaningfully engage with Siptu members on their six-point agenda which outlines their concerns over the proposed privatisation plans.

‘Severe inconvenience’

“In the face of this intransigence our members have been left with no option but to embark on a campaign of industrial action which will cost them financially and cause severe inconvenience to the travelling public which they are proud to serve.”

However Joe Kenny of Bus Éireann said the strike was unnecessary.

“We came over here with a view to averting this strike. We were ready, willing and able to negotiate any of the terms and conditions our staff were concerned about.

“Unfortunately even though a process was put forward to addresses these, the unions have chosen not to engage with us. “

Philip Donohue of Dublin Bus said the company urged the unions even at this late stage to re-engage in a process to try finalise an agreement for dealing with issues arising from market opening.