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 Header Item Bus Éireann (Continued)
 Header Item Property Taxation Administration

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 801 No. 4

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  4 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins] The sum in question was €38 million from the drivers, with another €20 million now being sought, and €9 million relating to pay and conditions. This is core pay. I am a post office worker and although we very seldom got pay increases, we always negotiated when shift work, extra night work and other allowances were involved to try to support the wages we had, which were very low. These are very low paid workers and they cannot and will not accept these cuts. I ask the Minister to intervene and to bring the management back into the talks. The other day management returned, stayed seven minutes and walked out, leaving an ultimatum that the cuts were to be brought in on 12 May. That is not the way to do business. Managers should be sitting in with the unions right now, discussing the issue.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan There is no question here of a bigger battle, an ideology or whatever. All we want is that passengers will not be inconvenienced and that drivers, who are already on very modest pay and conditions, who have to work weekends, rest days and public holidays, will not be more seriously damaged by this. The Minister is the person in charge. What is he going to do about it? Is he going to go back to the industrial relations machinery or try to use some other methodology to have this matter resolved?

I refer to Bus Éireann management. A constant complaint I hear from workers is that senior management has not taken its share of the burden. Is this the case? Would the Minister know if it was the case? Is there not a question to answer in that regard? Does senior management not also have a significant responsibility to offer new and innovative alternatives to what is being proposed?

The Minister spoke at length about public service obligations, PSO, and what managers in Bus Éireann could and could not do. The reality is that the Minister has slashed the public service obligation support for this company. I remember listening to him speak during the previous Dáil. He has no time for public sector companies and wanted to privatise this one. In the United Kingdom, when the national bus service was privatised, the result was an oligopoly of private operators. That is what the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, wants.

Deputy Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley I asked the Minister what I thought were three serious questions. First, where does the Government stand on this? The response I got was that the Minister would stand idly by. Second, I asked what strategy the Government expects to put in place to deal with those who will be affected by this strike if it goes ahead, who will not be in a position to afford private transportation. Third, I asked what action the Minister intends to take to mediate between both sides. The best I got from him on those two questions was that he very much hopes that management and unions can get their act together in the period concerned.

  More than that is needed from the Minister. He will have to take this as a serious issue. I am not having a go at him personally. I know he is doing his best in this regard. However, he will have to try harder and must put the two sides together. He will have to involve himself in a process of mediation. Clearly, neither the Labour Court nor the machinery of the State that is normally involved in resolving industrial relations is working in this instance. We conceded that and the Minister went on to comment about the Government and the unions vis-à-vis the Croke Park agreement. I believe there are people within the union structure who are very annoyed with the senior sections of their own organisations, who do not believe they are getting a fair hearing through the process of mediation available. This will require a much more involved process and greater intervention by the Minister. I look forward to his taking that on board.

Deputy Brian Walsh: Information on Brian Walsh Zoom on Brian Walsh I thank the Minister for his response and I welcome his clarity, particularly in regard to the issue of subvention. It is very important that the staff and the unions are aware the Minister does not have at his disposal a blank cheque that could address this issue. It is important that clarity is available.

I have some other questions and thank the Minister for his answers. How long has the process of negotiation been under way? Does he believe there will be engagement between the unions and the management of Bus Éireann in the coming ten days with a view to averting this action? Does he foresee a resolution?

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I can confirm to Deputy Regina Doherty that I cannot subvent commercial services. Bus Éireann can neither use profits from PSO services to subvent these services nor can it make profits from school bus services. I do not know whether school bus services will be affected. That will be a union call, and it is up to the unions to decide whether they want to affect the school services.

In answer to Deputy Walsh, the process has been going on for 11 months, at first with the LRC, then in the Labour Court. The court made its recommendation three months ago and we returned to the LRC and asked it to see if that could be tweaked. Those talks did not go anywhere. At the request of union leaders at senior level I was asked to intervene to defer implementation, which was done. Time has now run out. The company is in a position whereby it will not be able to pay the bills in the coming months because, unfortunately, 11 months were spent getting nowhere, which is very sad. Talks can continue at any time and place until 12 May but on that day the Labour Court recommendations will be implemented. There is no alternative. My role is to tell the people the truth about that and I hope people present, when they assess that, will understand it is the truth and will tell people over whom they have influence that this is the case. In addition, my role is to put in place contingencies in so far as it is possible to put in place alternatives, and to provide information where possible. That is what my Department and the National Transport Authority are now doing.

Deputies Joan Collins and Broughan pointed out that most of the staff in Bus Éireann are on modest core pay, which is entirely correct. It is also correct that core pay is not being reduced in these proposals. In fact, it is not being cut at all in Bus Éireann.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins Shift pay is part of core pay.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Bus Éireann is not party to the Croke Park agreement. There was no pension levy or public sector pay cut and there will be no cuts to basic pay.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins They had to pay the universal social charge.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar What the Labour Court recommended is that there be reductions in overtime, premium pay and unvouched allowances and expenses only.

Property Taxation Administration

Deputy John O'Mahony: Information on John O'Mahony Zoom on John O'Mahony I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this Topical Issues matter. Many issues concerning the property tax have arisen since it was included in the troika agreement three years ago, including in recent times exemptions for unfinished estates. That is not the reason I raise this matter. I raise it on behalf of those who want to pay their property tax and fulfil their responsibility but who are finding obstacles being put in their way. They have heard the warnings from the Revenue Commissioners who claim they will get the money in any case, and by and large these people wish to fulfil their responsibilities.

The first problem is trying to register. Large numbers of people did not receive letters from Revenue. I do not know the reason for that. Perhaps there is no database. I have had many people come to my office and my clinics who have paid their household charge and who, I presume, should have been on a database as a result, yet they still have not received letters. They telephone the lo-call number for Revenue and in some cases are left hanging on for 20 minutes before they get to talk to anybody. When they do get through, they say they wish to pay the tax and ask for a form so they can register because registration will not be done over the telephone. Revenue does not send them the letters and they are then told they can register online. There were six people in my office in Claremorris this morning whom my staff helped to register online. We are glad to do that and glad to help them but it should not be the function of any of our offices to do the work that is supposed to be done by Revenue.

As for the 20 minutes some people are left hanging on, is it the case that there are not enough people on the other end of the line to cope with what is coming their way? The final day for registration by post is next Tuesday, 7 May. Monday is a bank holiday and there will be no lo-call service or anything else for the people making queries. I appeal for the date of registration by post to be extended to the same day as the date for online registration, which is at the end of May. I do not want to see this turning into another SUSI or what happened when medical cards were centralised, but it seems that is how it is developing.

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