Bus Éireann staff to stage 'all-out indefinite strike' over cost cuts
Union chiefs have ordered an all-out strike at Bus Éireann which will cripple the country-wide bus network.
Industrial action was declared after bosses at the bus company threw down the gauntlet, insisting they were pressing ahead with cost-cutting measures.
Bus Éireann has told workers it is axing routes between Dublin and Derry, Clonmel and Westport within weeks while services between the capital and Limerick and Galway are being curtailed.
The cutbacks are expected to impact on pay and jobs.
Bus Éireann is adamant they are necessary "due to the perilous state of the company's finances and the failure to reach agreement with unions" in its row over a survival plan for the beleaguered carrier.
The "immediate cost savings" are to be implemented next Monday.
The threat immediately drew retaliation from the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU), which declared an "all-out indefinite strike" from the same date.
Dermot O'Leary, NBRU's general secretary, accused Bus Éireann bosses of steering workers towards conflict by issuing ultimatums before they have had the opportunity to digest previous manoeuvres.
"The fact is that by informing staff that they are going to introduce far-reaching and financially impactful measures from next Monday, without agreement, Bus Éireann has left us with no option but to inform the company that we will reactivate our previously notified strike action to coincide with the implementation of these measures," he added.
Trade union Siptu followed suit, saying it too would back all-out strike action.
Willie Noone, Siptu organiser, said workers are "amazed at the attitude" of bosses in announcing a plan to "render Bus Éireann services unrecognisable and massively curtail the public service the company currently provides".
"Siptu representatives have always been, and remain, available to discuss the introduction of efficiencies at Bus Éireann," he added.
"However, what is being outlined is the destruction of the company as a public service provider and in light of this it is inconceivable that the minister for transport Shane Ross will not intervene to rein in a management which is clearly acting against the interests of the travelling public."
But Bus Éireann has warned a €12 million cost-cutting package is "vital" to ensure the company doesn't go bust.
"The company must deal with its challenges directly, and the board [of directors] have a duty to ensure Bus Éireann is financially sustainable and therefore must take the necessary steps to secure this," a company spokeswoman said.
"Further dialogue aimed at urgently resolving these challenges would be welcome."
Before a parliamentary committee last month, Ray Hernan, acting chief executive at the bus company, said it lost between €8m and €9m last year, and had only €7m left in reserves.
Mr Hernan said Bus Éireann will be insolvent by the end of this year – on its 30th anniversary – with the loss of all 2,600 jobs unless an emergency survival plan is agreed.
He also indicated staffing costs other than basic pay, such as overtime shift allowances, rota allowances and lunch expenses, will come under the axe in a root and branch cost-cutting review expected in March.
Absenteeism, which is double the national average, will also have to be tackled, he told the hearing.
Mr Hernan said Bus Éireann's board of directors has until the end of March to sign off on last year's accounts but it would not be able to do so unless there is a drastic and decisive rescue plan in place before then.
Unions claim cost-cutting measures being proposed by the company will result in effective pay cuts of up to 30 per cent.