Mr Shane Ross TD
Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport
Leinster House
Kildare Street
Dublin 2

25th March 2017

RE: Bus Éireann dispute and the race to the bottom in terms of workers’ pay, terms and conditions

Dear Minister,

I refer to the above and the appalling situation at Bus Éireann where 2500 staff find themselves on the picket line, engaged in an all-out strike in response to the imposition of cuts to pay and conditions foisted on them, without agreement by the company for whom they work.

There is also the matter of thousands of commuters that use Bus Éireann services from Clonmel to Dublin, the X7 Service, and those that use the Dublin/Athlone/Westport 21 Service, being affected by the disgraceful decision to shut them down, more of which anon.

I am more than aware that you are on public record with regard to not involving your Office in the minutiae of the so-called industrial relations issues at Bus Éireann, a position with which I fundamentally disagree.

Mr Hernan, in his correspondence practically confirmed the view of the Trade Unions, that what is actually happening here is the reality that Bus Éireann are coming under pressure to realign its operations, inclusive of payroll, with some of those operators that compete in the imaginary Inter-urban market.

For the purpose of clarity, here is what Mr Hernan said in his letter to all staff:

“Our concern is underpinned by a genuine belief that Bus Éireann must have the cost structure that will enable it to tender successfully to retain existing, or win, new business.
In 2019 our existing PSO direct award contract will expire and if we are to successfully retain these PSO routes, we must become more efficient.”

Where is this concern/pressure coming from? Well it would appear that Bus Éireann is coming under pressure to drive down costs per kilometre, we believe from those state agencies/departments that necessarily fund the provision of PSO and school services.

The pressure to drive down costs in any business inevitably ends up being landed at the door of the worker, labour costs being the largest spend in any typical organisation.

It is only a short two years since we had a dispute in Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus with regard to the Privatisation of certain bus routes, where again the terms and conditions of staff were centre stage.

Minister, the notion that companies would compete for contracts awarded by the State, using the terms and conditions of workers as a vehicle towards achieving such contracts, is frankly odious and should have no place in our democracy or any modern society.

It is on this axis that this dispute spins.

We in the Trade Union family entered the debate on the financial crisis at Bus Éireann on the basis that there was losses of €6 million accruing at Expressway, and it needed solving.

This to us, despite the fact that a solution might visit pain on some of our members, was something that we could assist in resolving.

However, moving from a €6 million problem, through to an increase (driven we believe by insurance claims) to €9 million, is of itself a considerable task, but fundamentally changing the goalposts to the eye watering figure of €30 million is an entirely different matter altogether.

It surely behoves a State-owned Transport Company to provide leadership, with regards to how those that work within the Sector are treated.

It is for this very reason that we have been calling for all of those with a role to play, to come together in order to find an overarching and sustainable resolution to the problems at Bus Éireann.

The role requested of your Office is not, as some would have it, a direct involvement by you as Minister, but one by which you can create the environment for a multi-stakeholder forum to address all of the issues at Bus Éireann. Ironically, the 2008 Dublin Transport Authority Chapter 2, section 17 contains such a provision which could be utilised immediately as a component of the solution to this Bus Éireann Expressway crisis.

I do think, particularly at this juncture, that serious consideration should be given to this request.

In the matter of route closures, it is unfortunate that Bus Éireann has decided to include the scrapping of vital services in its correspondence to staff, both yesterday and previously on the 27th February.

We were, on the occasion of the 27th February, able to convince Bus Éireann to place a stay of execution on its plans to shut down Clonmel/Dublin and Dublin/Athlone/Westport, ostensibly to facilitate discussions at the WRC.

Minister, the matter is now out of our hands, whilst we will continue with our campaign in opposing such closures, it is surely time to assume political ownership of this issue, fiddling while Rome is burning is simply not an option.

Yours Sincerely,

_________________
Dermot O’Leary
General Secretary
National Bus & Rail Union

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