Lydia McKay weighs up the options on what should be done to solve the Bus Éireann crisis.
Talks between unions and management at Bus Éireann resume today at the Workplace Relations Commission in an aim resolve the all-out strike that is affecting national transport routes. On Saturday, some sources close to the negotiations described the process as “very challenging”, according to The Irish Times.
 
It has now been over two weeks since 2,600 workers at the bus company went out on all-out strike. The action is costing the company about €500,000 a day in lost fares and fines, some of which is offset by unpaid wages, and is also affecting an estimated 100,000 transport users.
 
The decision to strike was spurred on by controversial cuts by Bus Éireann that the unions were not in agreement with. The company banned “ad-hoc” overtime and ceased premium payments as well as overtime payments for training or for attending meetings.
 
In a bid to reduce costs, Bus Éireann are also beginning to stop certain less utilised routes around the country. Services in Clonmel, Limerick, Galway, and Derry will be ceased starting from this month.
 
So what can be done to make things right again?
 
Well, for starters, Minister for Transport Shane Ross could weigh in on the dispute. The Government have been under severe criticism since the strikes began regarding their lack of interest in the matter. Minister Ross stated last month that he would not be intervening in the industrial dispute. He told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport that he was “not a mediator” and he would not be “dictating” to the company or the unions on their internal issues. He said if the parties required external assistance, that the expert advice of the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court could help them.
 
The Minister said his participation, if he intervened, would be interpreted as him “bringing the taxpayers’ money” into the talks. “I will not be doing that,” he said.
 
Government officials and unions alike are not impressed by the Minister’s reluctance to help with the Bus Éireann ordeal. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin hit out at the Transport Minister for not doing enough to end the dispute. He said: “The dispute between management and staff at Bus Éireann has deteriorated into a bitter strike and the ongoing danger of secondary strikes across the country. There is no doubt in my mind that the failure of leadership on the part of the Transport Minister has contributed to the current crisis’’.
 
But apart from intervention from the Government to help solve the Bus Éireann issue, there is also the question as to whether the company should be privatised. Privatising Bus Éireann is not a quick and easy fix to this current crisis. The dramatic shift would have its disadvantages as well as its benefits.
 
For example, if Bus Éireann were to be run by a private company, they would immediately look into removing the less popular routes in order to save money. That means less work for the bus drivers, no transport for people in rural towns, and a rise in overpriced localised bus companies.
 
However, as mentioned earlier, Bus Éireann themselves are already beginning to shut down some routes in order to save money. The difference is that as a Government run organisation, we the taxpayers are paying for Bus Éireann to run. We can put up with private bus companies not providing everyone with transport routes but a Government run company should serve everyone.
 
So should Bus Éireann be privatised or maintained? As it stands, the country needs a national inter-county bus service that is reliable. Bus Éireann provides thousands of people with public transport at a reasonable price. If the company had decided to simply raise fares rather than cut workers’ pay, this whole ordeal could have been avoided. The organisation is necessary but the management is in a tough spot where they simply do not have the money to operate at full capacity. The temptation to privatise the bus company must be avoided if it is to survive.