NBRU chief says Labour Court did an 'honourable job' and deal with be carefully considered

Update 9.30am: The head of the NBRU says the Labour Court did an 'honourable' job trying to solve the Bus Eireann dispute.

The buses are back on the roads today after three weeks of strike action.

Drivers removed their pickets yesterday while they consider a new deal on cost cutting which includes over a hundred job losses. 

The NBRU's Dermot O'Leary says the Labour Court proposal makes the best of a bad situation and will be carefully considered.

Earlier: Many of the Bus Éireann drivers starting their first full working day in three weeks today can still expect to earn a salary of up to €50,000 if they and their colleagues vote to accept a Labour Court recommendation on their future terms and conditions, writes Stephen Rogers.

However, if the recommendation is accepted at least 120 drivers, 48 clerical staff, and 22 managers will be leaving the company over the coming months.

The Labour Court’s chairman Kevin Foley was clear as to just how essential it was that management and unions agree to proposals which he and his team had laid out.

“The court considers that the extreme situation of the company is such as to require an agreement which addresses the real and accepted immediate crisis,” he said.

Mr Foley said the court had been provided with detailed financial analyses “and notes that the company has asserted that it is currently insolvent”.

He said: “There is little value in making a recommendation which does not give the staff of Bus Éireann an opportunity to maintain their employment in a viable business which offers the prospect of sustainable employment on fair and reasonable terms into the future.”

The recommendation has pooled overtime payments and premium payments into a consolidated basic rate of pay with drivers in their first year of service earning €17.37 per hour, up to €20.11 for those who have reached or surpassed their fourth year. Unions had been looking for the maximum to be in excess of €22.

As a significant percentage of the drivers have already reached the four-year milestone they will be earning the top rate. Under the recommendation, they will be able to work anywhere between 39-48 hours with contracted hours varying on a depot by depot basis.

Under those hours, they will earn a minimum of just under €41,000 and a maximum of €50,000.

The recommendation has a clause which allows for the new rates to be reviewed after 12 months and 24 months.

Managerial and executive pay will also be reviewed at those points. It is being cut by 10% for anyone earning over €60,000.

Unions said there would be “winners and losers” as a result of the consolidated rates of pay.

Dermot O’Leary, general secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union said staff representatives would have preferred if the rates had been higher.

However, he welcomed the fact that managerial pay was being cut because, he said, unions felt some executive earnings were too high. He also said the management to staff ratio was too high and he welcomed the 20% reduction in those in executive and management positions.

Result of bus staff ballot due in 3 weeks

Bus Éireann is unlikely to know for at least three weeks whether or not its unions are accepting the cost savings which have been laid out in a recommendation from the Labour Court.

While the company has previously indicated it could be insolvent by May, unions have said they need to travel around the country to fully brief and take questions from their members on the implications of the 17-page document before they can be balloted.

“The recommendation from the Labour Court is long and comprehensive,” said Siptu sector organiser Willie Noone. “Every worker needs to study its contents and consider the consequences of accepting or rejecting it.”

Dermot O’Leary, general secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union, said even a cursory glance at the document showed major cultural change was imminent for Bus Éireann workers. He said that change had taken up to eight years in other companies, but this set of workers was having to take it on in a matter of weeks.

However, he welcomed the fact that the recommendation says there should be no further rationalisation or restructuring proposed by the company prior to 2019, the year in which a number of bus routes are expected to be put out to tender.

He welcomed the court’s backing for calls for a multi-stakeholder forum to discuss the future of public transport services once the current dispute at Bus Éireann is resolved.

The court, in its ruling, said it had noted “the range of issues deriving from the evolving nature of public transport and which have become factors relevant to the challenge facing this company”.

“The parties appear to the court to be convinced that a forum which offers the opportunity for constructive engagement by all stakeholders, including the trade unions, on the issues affecting this company and public transport generally can be very important in the context of achieving a sustainable Bus Éireann into the future,” it said.

Transport Minister Shane Ross has said, once the current dispute is concluded, he will announce details in the coming weeks of a Public Transport Stakeholder Dialogue to instigate a review of public transport policy.

“Ahead of that formal process, as soon as this dispute is fully resolved, I am happy to meet with unions to discuss issues of concern and look forward to their participation in the Stakeholder Dialogue,” he said.

That pronouncement was welcomed by unions, with Dermot O’Leary saying there needed to be proper oversight of how the department and NTA organises transport policy across the country.

The unions still criticised the role of Shane Ross’ department and the National Transport Authority in Bus Éireann’s situation.

Mr Noone said the dispute over recent weeks and months “is the result of government policy over several years and inaction over the past few months by the minister for transport, senior department officials responsible, and the Independent Alliance.”

Meanwhile, if the unions reject the Labour Court recommendation and staff end up back on strike they could be joined by their colleagues in Dublin Bus.

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.


 

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