The Labour Court deal was timed to stop the dispute spreading to other CIE companies such a Dublin Bus.
Management, backed by the Government and Minister Shane Ross, had originally wanted pay cuts of around 30% and widespread new flexible working conditions. They had talked up the scale of crisis and openly threatened to have the company declared bankrupt if workers resisted the cuts.
Fine Gael had brought a new CEO (Ray Hernon ) to act as a hatchet man. Hernon came with a strong anti-union, anti-worker background. Workers faced weeks of attacks in the media and widespread misreporting of the causes of the dispute.
Following magnificent wildcat action at rail and Dublin Bus depots, the media went into overdrive with CIE threatening to fine and take legal action against unions and workers for illegal secondary picketing. Unofficial Bus Eireann pickets were respected by an overwhelming majority of Dublin Bus and Irish Rail workers. This caused huge disruption across the country .The SIPTU ballot showed that workers in other CIE companies were also willing to support more solidarity action.
The attempt to railroad the changes failed in the face of workers’ resistance. The goal of Ross and co was to drive down wages and conditions at the semi-state company to the levels of those in the private non-union sector. That is why they licensed private operators on busy intercity routes while reducing the state subvention to the company. The so called crisis was manufactured to create the opportunity to enforce lower wages across the public transport system and allow for further privatisation and tendering out of routes by the NTA.
The resolve of the Bus Eireann works is to be celebrated. However there was widespread anger on the pickets at the calling off of the dispute by union officials before any deal was seen by workers. The details of the deal are also worrying for many workers. Whilst the proposed pay cuts have largely gone, there will be workers who may lose out.
The consolidated hourly rate is higher than the company wanted but may still mean an effective cut for some drivers for example. More worrying are clauses on flexibility and the use of sub-contractors and casual drivers. It appears that the actual detail of the deal is still been finalised as we go to print.
The deal will not resolve the key causes of the dispute. It remains Government and NTA policy to tender out Bus Eireann and Dublin Bus routes to private operators under the guise that competition is good for public transport. It’s not! It is only good for the profits of a few (largely multinational controlled) private operators. Wages are so low at some private companies that drivers can qualify for social welfare payments. There are no pension schemes and little sick pay provisions in the private sector. This is why the private sector is often cheaper
In the meantime, Ireland continues to have one of the lowest subsidised transport networks in Europe. Bus Eireann workers may yet reject this deal, if so the solidarity of other Rail and bus workers will be key to winning any further dispute. The resolve of Bus Eireann workers may have stopped the worst of the Government’s attack and the attempt to force a race to the bottom on workers’ wages and conditions for now. But that fight is not over.