THERE are fresh fears of bus strikes and travel disruption in Limerick this Tuesday after talks between Bus Eireann and unions broke down.
For over a week, the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU), Siptu and the state bus provider had been locked in talks at the Workplace Relations Commission.
But these collapsed late on Monday night, heightening the possibility of an all-out strike in Limerick and around the country.
Bus Eireann runs seven regular services covering the city and its surrounds, as well as other irregular routes covering rural Co Limerick. On top of this, there are twice hourly services to Shannon Airport. The company also provides a road link to Waterford, Dublin, Galway, Cork and other Irish towns and cities.
A statement from Bus Éireann said: "Bus Éireann are extremely disappointed that talks with unions have broken down at the WRC today, following seven days of engagement.
"Given the seriousness of our financial position, we always had a very tight timeframe to implement actions but we nevertheless engaged in good faith to facilitate intensive discussion, with the aim of reaching a negotiated settlement with trade unions.
"Despite their public pronouncements about engaging on addressing the high level of inefficiencies, there has been no flexibility shown during our engagement on efficiency measures.
“While inefficiencies have been acknowledged and accepted by unions, there was a refusal to accept any reduction of earnings, including unnecessary overtime earnings.
The spokesperson said Bus Eireann – which bosses claim could be insolvent by May – will reassess further actions to save the firm.
Proposals deferred earlier this month included the Limerick to Dublin X12 Expressway service being reduced in frequency.
Dermot O’Leary, general secretary of the NBRU said “The trade unions engaged in good faith and came into the WRC process committed to engaging in an agenda around efficiencies.
“Despite our commitment to do that, the company concentrated its focus on immediately cutting workers take home pay which we would not countenance.
“Talks concluded without agreement and it’s now up to the company to revert in terms of their next course of action. If the company repeats its previous announcements around unilaterally cutting people’s pay, we will have no alternative but to re-activate our strike action.”
Willie Noone, Siptu transport sector Organiser, said “The company appears hell-bent in getting them in without giving us the time to go through the complexities of them.
“The company appears to be referring to us as inflexible but that’s totally untrue because any unnecessary overtime is there for the taking anyway. We would never safeguard that at all. But there is overtime which is part of core pay for years and to take that off people, which could run to €150 to €200 a week, is too much to bear for people who are reliant on it to pay their normal expenses.
“We are not going to provoke any dispute at all. The ball is in the company’s court and, on a number of occasions the company has said it is going to start implementing changes and we have said to them to pull back from the brink.
At this stage, it remains unclear if and when any strike action will commence.
Strike action was deferred earlier this month after the unions and Bus Eireann agreed to go to the Workplace Relations Commission. It was the second time in the space of six weeks this has happened.
The possibility of strike action comes against the backdrop of a public meeting this Wednesday night aimed at protecting local bus services.
Sinn Fein MEP Liadh Ni Riada is hosting the meeting from 7.30pm at Pery’s Hotel in Glentworth Street.
Ms Ni Riada has urged Irish people to stand up and fight for their bus services.She said: “Across Europe attempts are being made to undermine public services, including publicly-owned and operated transport services. In Ireland a policy of creeping privatisation and underfunding have hampered Bus Éireann.”
She said that if the semi-state’s reforms are allowed, it will also see cuts to Expressway services between Limerick, Tralee, Killarney, Listowel, Clonmel, Tipperary and Waterford, Cork and Galway.
“These are crucial to the people of Limerick City and County,” she said, “People living outside of our cities and big towns cannot be left stranded due to these cuts. Hundreds of thousands of individuals across Ireland depend on these services to get to school, college or work, to access health services, or to stay connected.
“The network of intercity and regional services is especially important to people living in rural Ireland and in our small towns and villages.”
All are welcome at the public meeting which starts in the hotel at 7.30pm.
For more information, telephone 061-418322.