CIE workers united can beat these attacks.
The Government are trying to dismantle Bus Eireann and savage the pay and conditions of drivers as well as the services provided across the country.
The plan is to run down the state subsidised service and encourage more private operators using non-union workers on inferior terms of employment.
The latest announcement from Bus Eireann management would mean an effective cut in real pay of almost 25% for most drivers, alongside employing casual labour and running down pensions and long term job security.
The company still want to separate the Expressway Services and implement massive cuts in other services across the country but especially in the West which already has extremely poor public transport provision.
They claim the company is in crisis after a reported loss of about €7 million last year. In reality this is a manufactured crisis.
It stems from gross underfunding over years by the Government and the policy of the NTA (National Transport Authority) who have given licences to private operators on profitable inter-city routes that have undercut the Bus Eireann service.
It has increased seat capacity on the Dublin-Limerick route by 111%, the Dublin-Cork route by 128% and the Dublin-Waterford route by 55%.The private operators employ drivers on much worse conditions than Bus Eireann with no comparable pension, sick or pay rates. Thus they can offer cheaper services.
And private operators will not usually accept the free travel scheme passes used by many older people.
Between 2009 and 2015 the Government reduced the subsidy given to Bus Eireann by 34%. This saw many services withdrawn or reduced. Bus Eireann workers accepted a number of cost cutting plans that saw earnings fall and a wage freeze for over eight years.
The crisis is designed to give the Government and the NTA the excuse to push in a draconian attack on workers terms and conditions and pave the way for what they see as the more “efficient” private sector, by which they mean non-union labour and poorer pay.
The attack must be resisted. But this affects not just Bus Eireann drivers. The same cuts in subsidy can affect rail and Dublin Bus. The NTA still plans to tender out 10% of Dublin Bus routes and wants to bring in competitive tendering for all public transport. It is a neo liberal agency committed to pushing free market dogma and driving down workers’ wages and conditions.
This is why all CIE workers should stand with their Bus Eireann colleagues. Only the prospect of a national bus and rail strike can stop Ross and Co from allowing Bus Eireann management to implement these attacks. The same solidarity between CIE workers forced past Governments to back down from similar plans.
Attacking free travel scheme a big mistake.
In the meantime Bus Eireann workers should campaign for public support and make the link between need for decent public transport and for decent jobs and conditions. Bus Eireann provide a vital social service to many isolated and rural towns and villages. They also provide the only free transport service for many older and retired people.
While the unions are correct to say that the Government do not provide enough subsidy to cover these services, this should not be mistaken for an attack on the idea of free transport for the old and others.
Some workers have gone on national media such as the Joe Duffy Show to decry free transport, and others have suggested charging older people. This is mistaken on two counts. The use by older people of transport is not the cause of the funding crisis; it is the underfunding by Governments over years that has caused this crisis.
Older people are absolutely entitled to use state transport and should be encouraged to use it MORE not less. It can be the only way for them link up with other towns and people and we want to see more people use public transport, not make it exclusive for those who can afford to pay.
Secondly, the users of public transport can we won to defend the jobs and conditions of drivers if workers put the argument to them that it is in their interest that we have a good, well-funded service that is run not for profit but as a social and environmental good.
The fares on all public transport services have rocketed over the years of austerity as the Government cut its funding. This is not in the interests of either workers or the travelling public. We should campaign for cheaper and freer transport for all as well as decent jobs and security for workers.