Bus Éireann workers left with no alternative

Greg Ennis is Head of SIPTU, Transport, Energy, Aviation and Construction Division (TEAC). Originally published in the print edition of Liberty.

A senior management decision to launch a unilateral attack on their terms and conditions has left Bus Éireann workers with little choice but to invoke their mandate for strike action.

Workers across all sections within Bus Éireann are cognisant of the important public service role that they provide and are acutely aware of the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on their services on a daily basis. These workers recognise that the public will be adversely affected should strike action commence on 20th February.

However, with a management team intent on forcing through cuts that endanger the very future of our public transport system, particularly in rural areas, our members in Bus Éireann feel duty bound to take action. SIPTU will vehemently support our members in this dispute and whatever action they decide to take.

At its core this dispute is quite simple. The State should not need to operate a ‘for profit’ bus service but rather one that provides an efficient and effective service to communities across the country. Recognising this over 300 bus routes across the country are categorised as Public Service Obligation (PSO) routes and receive subvention allowing them to break even.

Clearly, Bus Éireann’s intercity operation, Expressway, needs to be re-examined with certain of its routes needing to be re-categorised as PSO. There is also the issue of establishing a Sectoral Employment Order for the bus industry, which would remove workers’ pay and conditions from competition between public and private operators. This would end the race to the bottom in the industry in terms of workers’ employment standards thus ensuring decent jobs are maintained and crucially safety standards are upheld.

It is sadly ironic that in recent days the government has promoted its ‘Rural Ireland Framework’ and its ‘National Planning Strategy 2040’ and yet it seems intent on presiding over the demise of public transport in rural Ireland. If there was ever a case of talking out of both sides of your mouth, well this is it. Already, as a direct consequence of operational changes implemented by the management of Bus Eireann on 16th January, we have seen negative effects on rural PSO routes resulting in citizens being stranded without their necessary public transport.

As the dispute at Bus Éireann has worsened, workers and the public have awaited deeds and not just flippant words from the the Minister for Transport, Shane Ross. However, he continues to ‘twiddle his thumbs’ while conflict looms large over the whole transport sector. As it is Government policy which lies at the centre of this crisis it is undoubtedly the responsibility of the Minister, his Department and by association the National Transport Authority and the Department of Social Protection to get involved in efforts to resolve it.

Surely, the travelling public outside the greater Dublin area are entitled to no less a public transport service than that which exists within the capital and its suburbs? Our members in Bus Eireann believe that is the case as they also believe bus workers deserve to have decent jobs.

That is why they are committed to persevering until they win the upcoming battle. It is also why they believe that the travelling public, rural TDs and all fair minded citizens will support them if they are forced to take strike action.

Greg Ennis is Head of SIPTU, Transport, Energy, Aviation and Construction Division (TEAC).

Read the full edition of Liberty here.