Unions and Bus Éireann management agree to talks at WRC; bus drivers to stay on picket lines

Update 6.50pm: Trade union Unite, which represents craft workers in Bus Éireann, will also attend the talks tomorrow, but their pickets will remain in place.

Unite's Willie Quigley cautioned against "kicking the can down the road", and reiterated their call for Minister Shane Ross to bring together all sides to work out a "sustainable way forward" for Ireland’s public transport system.

Mr Quigley said: "Our members are as anxious to find a resolution to this dispute as the travelling public.

“I would, however, caution that a resolution of this immediate dispute - if it can be found - will not solve the problems facing Ireland’s public transport system, which have their roots in public policy choices and will ultimately require a political solution.

"The time has come to stop kicking the can down the road, and for the Minister to convene a forum of all stakeholders to chart a sustainable way forward for public transport – in the interests of those who use the service, and the workers who deliver it."

Update 5.50pm: The Minister for Transport has welcomed the talks.

Shane Ross said: "I welcome this afternoon's announcement that both parties have accepted an invitation from the WRC to recommence discussions. I hope that all involved can use this opportunity to agree upon an acceptable and fair deal.

"The travelling public will expect that the parties can come to an agreement that allows for an end to this recent period of disruption to transport services."

Earlier: Unions and Bus Éireann management have agreed to talks at the Workplace Relations Commission to resolve the dispute at the company.

The National Bus & Rail Union and SIPTU both said they will attend the talks tomorrow morning, but their members will stay on strike.

An all-out strike by workers at the company over proposed cost-cutting measures is well into its second week.

The company says its financial situation continues to deteriorate and achieving savings to remain solvent and sustain the business is now vital.

About 2,600 Bus Eireann workers walked out on Friday, March 23.

Dermot O'Leary of the NBRU said they will be looking for a review of the management at the transport provider.

He said: "One of the first items on our agenda will be a complete review of the managerial structure at Bus Éireann, inclusive of the salary levels associated with the roles of those who are leading the demand for our members to become more productive.

"We remain committed to the NBRU 4-point SOBS Plan, our view being that an overarching and sustainable solution can only be achieved if all stakeholders, in particular the Department of Transport and the NTA, being part of a process, which will commit to working towards the establishment of a Sectoral Employment Order, designed to protect all workers in the commercial bus industry.

"We remain opposed to closure of Routes. We require building blocks such as a review of the commerciality of some Bus Éireann Expressway routes, the licensing regime and the covering legislation."

Mr O'Leary also said his members are "extremely frustrated" with the lack of urgency at resolving this dispute.

He said: "We have always indicated our willingness to engage on an efficiency based agenda, geared towards resolving the industrial relations issues, which of itself will contribute to an overall solution to the Bus Éireann Expressway crisis, however it should be noted that we have been here before, management walking away on the previous two occasions.

"Staff have been suffering cuts to pay and conditions since the 16th January, some of our members having been threatened with dismissal, an issue which will require to be addressed as a component of these discussions, in the meantime our members have resolved to remain on picket lines during the WRC talks process."

The NBRU said some workers have been threatened with dismissal since the strike started and others have had their pay cut since January 16.

SIPTU's Willie Noone said: “Over the last 12 days of strike action our members have remained resolute in their position. They will not accept unilateral changes to their terms and conditions of employment. They will also not start down a road that would see their terms and conditions of employment forced into line with those of the lowest paid workers in the transport sector.

“The strike by workers and the picketing of Bus Éireann depots will continue. This is due to fact that some of our members have been dismissed from their jobs in recent days. To expect our members to return to work without resolving this situation or reversing the cuts that the company has already imposed on other workers is not reasonable or acceptable.”

Noone added: “Furthermore, it may also focus the minds of the management of Bus Éireann and stop it from walking away from talks for the third time. SIPTU is committed to achieving an outcome to this dispute which will underpin the survival of Bus Éireann as an employer which treats its workers fairly and with dignity.”

Bus Eireann says it lost up to €9m last year and losses are continuing to accelerate, and exacerbated by strike action to date, threaten to collapse the company this year - its 30th anniversary.

A voluntary redundancy scheme for 300 workers was also being tabled.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin has claimed the strike would have been resolved by now if it was directly affecting Dublin on a daily basis

Speaking during the latest Dáil leaders questions debate which also saw him claim Dublin Bus is receiving 11 times as much State subvention support as Bus Éireann, Mr Martin said Government is failing to help rural Ireland.

"We are now in the 12th day of the nationwide Bus Éireann dispute. The simple refrain across Ireland is that if this dispute was in Dublin, it would have been resolved a long time ago.

"That is the general sense in regional cities, rural towns and across the countryside and one which we encounter all the time," he said.

Mr Martin said the situation is putting the work and private life of 110,000 daily Bus Éireann passengers at risk, and again urged direct Government intervention in the dispute, saying the reality is Dublin Bus is receiving 11 times the financial aid of Bus Éireann.

However, rejecting the claim, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Government is doing all it can to help rural communities directly affected by the situation and defended Transport Minister Shane Ross's decision not to intervene in the dispute.

"If unions and workers agree there are issues to be sorted out and dealt with then the place to do that is at the Workplace Relations Commission.

"The Minister, Deputy Ross, has publicly stated that he expects ministerial level discussions will resolve that particular issue very satisfactorily.

"The Minister has been very active on encouraging the WRC to invite both sides back to the talks again," he said.


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