Statement by socialist bus drivers

The strikes by bus drivers were overwhelmingly supported by the public and forced concessions from the Government. It pays to fight. But the core issues have not been resolved and the strikes should have continued.

Socialist Worker

The strikes by bus drivers were overwhelmingly supported by the public and forced concessions from the Government. It pays to fight. But the core issues have not been resolved and the strikes should have continued.

Here Socialist Worker re-publishes a statement by socialist bus drivers themselves.

The LRC terms of settlement are aimed at insuring there are no further strikes against the agenda to privatise 10% of our routes in the next year and to keep the door open to the potential tendering out of more routes in 2019. It does nothing to address the core issue of the NTA handing routes and buses over to private, non-union operators, or to challenge their claims that this will save taxpayers money and insure a more efficient service.

The deal will allow the NTA proceed with tendering out the 10% of routes in Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann, and calls for a raft of meetings and consultations to take place over the next months, none of which will address the issue of the privatisation of those routes. Instead, the key “breakthrough” is meant to be the commitment that no driver will be forced to move with a tendered route; something that could never have been countenanced by any trade unionist and would have faced huge legal hurdles.

To assure us that our futures will not be undercut by this process, the deal offers two proposed mechanisms: Registered Employment Agreement (REA) and a Sectorial Employment Order (SEO). REA: This amounts to both unions and companies registering current conditions and agreements with the LRC with some formulation of words that states tendering will not directly impact on these conditions/pay. This is however largely meaningless. It can’t happen until new legislation is introduced as employer’s organisations took legal action against the old legislation and a High court decision found them illegal. The new legislation is almost certain to be challenged as well; meaning the entire process could take years.

In any case such an REA would not stop either company from seeking changes to our pay or conditions on the basis that they need to be “competitive.” Guarantees from the current minister that no driver would be forced to move relate only to the current situation; they cannot be a guarantee of what happens if the NTA decide to tender “in the public interests” more routes involving larger numbers of drivers in 2019.

Unions tried using REAs during the boom to force non-union firms into accepting better rates of pay and conditions with limited success. The measure didn’t stop overall declining numbers of union members, and didn’t impact on the MNC sector which remained largely non-unionised. The point of such a REA now in the CIE group, would be largely symbolic and akin to a “letter of comfort”; i.e. of no real use in stopping future attacks on pay or conditions.

SEO: Again this is of limited use in stopping any future attack on our pay or conditions. Such an order might lay down minimum conditions for the bus transport sector, but these would likely be so low as to just reflect what is already available in non-union companies like Aircoach or Kavanaghs. It would not force private companies tendering for our routes to raise their pay or conditions to our levels and any interpretation that it would is mistaken. Moreover it will not force the NTA to insure drivers in these companies have the same rates or conditions as us; the NTA will simple consider a firm’s labour costs as one item among many; its ultimate criteria will be whichever tender is the cheapest.

In effect this deal is about allowing the NTA to proceed to put in place a framework that allows tendering of our routes : 10% of routes to start with and with no real guarantee that it will stop there. The NTA can claim this is not privatisation, the LRC and Government can play the same semantic game. In reality it is, and the process allows for more routes to be tendered in the future.

The only significant saving a private company can offer the NTA is on their labour costs i.e the rates paid to drivers and maintenance workers. This is what tendering is all about, and this deal ultimately will come back to haunt us if it succeeds in stopping us from fighting the tendering process and the logic that underlines it. Our unions should instead launch a joint public campaign against these measures and force a real debate on what this privatisation by stealth will mean for public transport. Any deal should also go back to drivers to vote on.

WHO ARE THE NTA?

The NTA is the regulator for all of Irelands public transport; rail, bus and taxi. They are presented as an independent, neutral body. In fact they are staffed with Fine Gael and Fianna Fail hacks that are handpicked for their ideological commitment to competition and free markets. Their goal is to let rip against worker’s rights and conditions in currently unionised public or semi-state firms. The NTA regurgitates pro market and pro privatisation dogma as if they are uncontested facts. The recent controversy over one board member, Valerie O’Reilly shows the reality. O’Reilly was a part of the corrupt ex Fine Gael minister Michael Lowery’s constituency team. Lowery used his influence to get her appointed to the last NTA board where she has pocketed over 55,000 euro for showing up to a few meetings and supporting the privatisation agenda pushed by the board. Its chair is John Fitzgerald, the former Dublin City manager who has bounced around various semi state boards trying to push privatisations and pro market policies. As Dublin city manager he oversaw urban renewal policies that gave private developers free reign and huge tax breaks while riding roughshod over local working class communities.

The ten years of his tenure in the city saw whole communities gentrified and developers make millions while the city continued to choke with traffic and the council’s services where cut back or contracted out to private companies. He was the manager who pushed bin charges and his reward as a leading member of Irelands golden circle has been various board memberships like An Post and the HSE.

LIES ABOUT PUBLIC TRANSPORT

The NTA and Government campaign to privatise bus routes are based on outright likes about public transport.

LIE 1; State companies get too much funding, their wasteful and inefficient.

IN FACT; Dublin Bus gets a lower subsidy than most other comparable European cities, even some who are already privatised. The NTAs own report on Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann had to admit that both companies reached and exceeded ALL performance targets they were set by the NTA!! Even on the routes they now want to hand over to private companies. Other reports by international transport agencies have found the state companies preform as well and better than privatised companies. The problem is that state funding has declined drastically since 2008. While busy bailing out the banks, the state funding for public transport was savaged with services and jobs cut and fares rose dramatically over the last three years. Having created this crisis by underfunding, the Government and the NTA want to pretend it’s caused by lack of competition and inefficient public sector workers. If the subvention were increased to the average of the other cities, Dublin Bus could be receiving an additional €175 million. • If the subsidy increased to the London level, Dublin Bus could be receiving an additional €53 million

LIE 2; The Luas is run by a private company, it gets no state funding and runs a profit; this shows how much more efficient private run companies are.

IN FACT; Luas did not build its own rail system and is not expected to maintain their tracks and infrastructure, taxpayers paid for these. In reality for every one euro paid in fares, Luas passengers get a subsidy of €2.88 for every euro paid to Bus Éireann by comparison, there is a state subsidy of just €0.13. This means that the average LUAS fare covers less than 30% of the effective costs of each journey, while bus passengers are expected to pay for 90% plus for their trips. This is not an argument against state funding of Luas but shows how the Government will misuse information to push their ideological agenda.

THE BUS WORKERS ACTION GROUP IS A GROUP OF DUBLIN BUS DRIVERS, WE WILL BE CAMPAIGNING AGAINST PRIVATISATION IN THE COMING MONTHS, IF YOU WANT TO GET INVOLVED OR SUBMIT AN ARTICLE CONTACT OUR E MAIL ADDRESS busworkersactiongroup@gmail.com

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