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 Header Item Housing (Amendment) Bill 2013: Second Stage (Continued)
 Header Item Topical Issue Debate
 Header Item Bus Éireann

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 801 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael McNamara: Information on Michael McNamara Zoom on Michael McNamara] Of course, that puts further pressure on the local authority and on other people who could be benefiting from local authority housing but are not because others decide to take advantage of the system.

I have received various assurances on this issue from Ministers. I do not expect an update today from the Minister of State on what will be done regarding existing tenancies, but I hope that in the weeks ahead her Department will be able to outline what will be done with regard to such tenancies and arrears. Specifically, will it be legally possible to insert a clause concerning this household budget rent deduction scheme into existing tenancies? If so, under what legislative provisions will it be done? Something like that would be very useful, not just for Clare County Council but for all housing authorities across the State.

Debate adjourned.

Topical Issue Debate

Bus Éireann

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty We know from media reports and confirmation from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, that industrial action is pending on behalf of workers in Bus Éireann. This choice of action has arisen after 11 long months of deliberations, negotiations and protracted discussions between management, the Labour Relations Court and workers.

I am concerned about the pending industrial action and the effect it will have on local communities. Does the Minister for Transport think there is any flexibility within his budget to support Bus Éireann in providing what the workers are seeking?

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins Public transport is vital to the economy and society in general. These talks have been going on for quite a while and, on 10 April, it seemed that progress was being made. I have been informed that they were parking the most contentious issues and were trying to deal with some of the other ones. The unions thought there was progress when they went in the other day. However, after seven minutes, the management gave them an ultimatum that they were going to introduce cuts on 12 May.

The Minister should now intervene. Workers should not have to subsidise the cut in Bus Éireann's subvention. I would like to hear the Minister's position on this matter. Does he agree with the management's position? The NBRU already has a strike mandate if the management introduces cuts. The union does not have to re-ballot its membership. I think it would be quite prepared to take that action if the management brings in those cuts on 12 May.

These workers earn €33,000 per year in basic pay, which is a third of what TDs earn. I do not take that money, but it is €92,000. The workers should not bear austerity cuts; they are providing a vital service. I would like to know if the Minister agrees with the management.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan Everybody is shocked that Bus Éireann, with the apparent approval of the Minister, intends unilaterally to impose severe cuts in the pay and conditions of Bus Éireann workers from Sunday, 12 May. According to the latest figures, the company has carried out 36.5 million customer journeys. I am aware of Labour Court recommendation 20463, which recommended significant cuts for drivers, maintenance staff, inspectors and clerical executive workers. After five years of deep recession and major cost reductions in 2009, which impacted on pay and conditions for many drivers and other workers in Bus Éireann, the current threat is the last straw.

On modest core pay, the Labour Court recommended that the first two hours of overtime be cut from time and a half to time and a quarter. In addition, Sunday overtime is being cut from double time to time and a half, while public holidays are down to time and a quarter. These workers work unsocial hours and support the community when the bulk of the population is not working. Shift pay and annual leave are also being severely cut.

Those types of cuts, which are replicated for drivers and other grades, will be devastating for workers and their families. One driver with children at college told me yesterday that he will lose at least €3,000 a year. With property tax, rising health insurance, mortgages and other costs, workers feel they just cannot take any more. It is therefore understandable that the NBRU and SIPTU are balloting staff on whether to take action from the end of next week.

Many efficiencies have been brought about in the CIE companies. For example, we had the Deloitte review in 2008-09, along with retrenchments. In recent years, however the Minister has consistently cut the public service obligation subvention. According to the company's annual report for 2011, it looks like the subvention is down to about 15%. This is the lowest subvention of any major national public bus company in Europe.

The next few weeks constitute a particularly bad time for any kind of industrial action, given that the school bus service may well be involved, with 114,000 school-children facing exams. The Minister should take action. We need an alternative strategy which must involve further national support for the company and an end to attempts to scapegoat Bus Éireann workers for the current difficulties. We also need a much more dynamic and innovative management team, which is a prerequisite for change.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley Today we learned that Bus Éireann's unilateral decision to cut costs, as well as seeking reductions in overtime, shifts in premium payments, longer working hours for office staff and reductions in annual leave, have resulted in the threat of students being unable to use public transport during an exam period. That is a very serious developing situation. Bus Éireann has outlined that it intends to target about €20 million worth of savings from 12 May, including €9 million from pay and conditions. As the Minister knows, this has resulted in SIPTU balloting over 900 of its members working in Bus Éireann. It now appears that strike action is very much on the cards. It is more of a probability than anything else.

We understand that Bus Éireann needs to find savings and on this side of the House we accept that. It is a given that as a result of increased fuel costs and lower passenger numbers which have resulted in a reduction of revenues for the company, the Minister is not in a position to support the CIE group as previous governments were. I understand that. The Labour Court has pointed out how this can be achieved. It is recognised that the company is in a difficult position.

The Labour Court has stated that the very viability of the transport operator is under threat if something is not done. However, the lack of agreement between management and staff has the potential seriously to disrupt thousands of travellers who rely on Bus Éireann's service every day. As industrial action is most likely to occur in the exam period for colleges and secondary schools in May, this is of particular concern to students and their parents who do not have access to private transport. If industrial action spreads to include school transport services, it is estimated that up to 114,000 children will be affected. That should bring into stark focus, both for the Minister and the Government, that action needs to be taken. Where do the Government and the Minister stand on this issue? Does the Government have a strategy to ensure that our public transport system will not let down those who cannot afford private transportation, particularly during the stressful exam period?

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