While existing workers face a 30% cut in earnings, the company also want flexi-hour contracts for new drivers. They have also announced a swathe of cuts to routes including the scrapping of the Dublin-Derry, Dublin- Clonmel and Westport-Athlone services.
The Government and Transport Minister,Shane Ross, pretend it’s got nothing to do with them but the entire so-called crisis is the outcome of Government policy. The aim is to attack union rates of pay and drive conditions down to the levels of private non-union labour in the transport sector.
By attacking Bus Eireann workers they hope to stop the spread of any militancy and enforce low pay levels across the country. Fine Gael appointed Ray Hernan as CEO on over €200,000 a year to launch this attack; Hernan comes with a background of working in companies such as non-union Ryanair and Arnotts where workers faced similar “shock and awe” tactics.
The facts behind the crisis speak for themselves. Between 2009 and 2015 the state cut funding to Bus Eireann by over 22% falling from €49 million to just €33 million in 2015. It did increase from that low last year but this doesn’t correct the damage done from years of underinvestment.
To put this in comparison with other countries, as a percentage of total revenue Bus Eireann’s state funding is around 12%. In Belgium the figure is 78%, in Switzerland it’s 51.5% and in Holland it’s 49%.
As well as under-funding the service, the Government have nurtured private non-union operators. The NTA has licensed services on busy intercity routes. It increased seat capacity on Dublin-Cork by 128%, Dublin-Waterford by 55% and Dublin-Limerick by 111%.
Bus Eireann has now announced that it is cutting the Limerick service because of the competition from private operators. These companies pay lower rates of pay and often go express without stopping in smaller towns and villages. While this cuts their costs it takes passengers from Bus Eireann and increases its losses.
It means Bus Eireann is left to service the unprofitable routes with ever dwindling state support. The Government also give private operators who use the free travel pass for OAPs and others a greater subsidy. While private operators can get 70 % of the cash fare for the free travel scheme, Bus Eireann receives just 30%.
Although the company and unions are still in talks, a strike at Bus Eireann is still likely and it will be a major battle for all trade unionists and workers. The attack on Bus Eireann workers will be replicated in the future at Dublin Bus.
The NTA is still planning to take Dublin Bus routes and hand them over to private operators. If it gets away with its plans for Bus Eireann it will make further attacks on union conditions and jobs inevitable. That’s why support from Rail and Dublin Bus workers will be essential to fight back against these Government sanctioned plans.