New talks aimed at averting further strikes at Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann scheduled to take place on Friday and Saturday are likely to continue for a number of days.
The Labour Relations Committee (LRC) last weekend invited unions and management to take part in a further attempt to resolve the current dispute, which has already seen a two-day work stoppage earlier this month.
It is understood the LRC had also held discussions with the Department of Transport and the National Transport Authority.
The dispute centres on plans by the National Transport Authority - backed by the Government - to put out to tender 10 per cent of routes currently operated by the State-owned Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann.
The two State companies will be permitted to take part in the tender process for the future operation of the routes.
Further work stoppages
In addition to the planned strikes on Friday and Saturday, further work stoppages are scheduled to take place for three days over the June bank holiday weekend.
The unions involved in the dispute, the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) and Siptu, are fearful that if the State companies lose the right to operate routes, it could lead to a deterioration in the terms and conditions of members.
They are also concerned at possible further routes being put out to tender as part of a second wave of reforms in the bus market due to come into effect in 2019.
Informed sources suggested a twin-track approach could be adopted in the new process, with talks on existing industrial relations issues taking place in tandem with discussions on what could happen in 2019 with a view to eventually bringing the issues back together into one overall deal.
LRC chief executive Kieran Mulvey said every effort would be made to resolve the issues before the end of the week.
“It’s not just about today, we’ll be setting up meetings hopefully tomorrow and Wednesday as well,” he said.
Mr Mulvey said industrial relations and “complex” issues around the tender needed to be discussed in detail.
“We will establish what their current thinking is and explore a number of options with them,” he said.
Chief human resources officer for Bus Éireann Joe Kenny said the company welcomed the opportunity to have talks to resolve the dispute.
“We are hopeful we can find a way forward and avoid any further disruption to our customers this week. Hopefully parties can find that way forward today,” he said.
Siptu utilities division organiser Owen Reidy said the union was keen to reach an agreement, but its members would strike again if talks failed.
“Hopefully we won’t. But it’s up to others to play their role to ensure that doesn’t happen,” he said.
“What we’re looking for is not unreasonable.
“The employers need to get their act together to try and address the consequences of privatisation.”
Mr Reidy said the union had a six-point plan as the basis for forming a resolution.
Head of human resources for Dublin Bus Philip Donohue said the main goal of the negotiations was to prevent any further industrial action and end the dispute.
NBRU general secretary Dermot O’ Leary said companies taking a legal case against trade unions as a result of the previous strike was “unfortunate”.
“We’ve written back to the companies and we will defend that robustly,” he said.
More ‘positivity’ required
Mr O’Leary said he wanted the parties on the other side of the debate to come forward with more “positivity” and looked forward to resolving the dispute.
“In terms of 2019, there’s no softening for us...very open on terms of attack on our members’ jobs,” he said.
“Legal assurances and verifiable assurances, that’s what we need - on that issue there won’t be any compromise.”