Wednesday 26 October 2016

'We'll sue the bus companies and extend the strike if needs be,' say unions


General view of bus drivers striking at gate of Dublin Bus Ringsend Depot. Ringsend, Dublin
General view of bus drivers striking at gate of Dublin Bus Ringsend Depot. Ringsend, Dublin

A UNION boss representing striking bus drivers has said that no approaches have been made to them to go back to the negotiating table to end the dispute that has crippled the country's bus network.

As bus users are forced to find alternative transport for a second day, National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) general secretary Dermot O'Leary also warned they'll counter-sue the bus companies if their threatened legal action goes ahead.

Unions are threatening five more days of strike action later this month if their concerns over the privatisation of 10pc of bus routes are not resolved.

"Absolutely no approach of any form has been made to us today to end this dispute," Mr O'Leary told the Herald last night.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said there were "no winners" as a result of the industrial action by bus workers, adding that he hoped further strike action would be called off.

He made his comments as hundreds of drivers marched on the Dail yesterday afternoon, causing further disruption. Traffic was diverted away from various streets in the capital, with Molesworth Street closed for a short time while marches took place.

Despite the inconvenience to hundreds of thousands of bus users, striking drivers insisted that the public had offered them "a huge amount of support".

The Herald visited Dublin Bus' Ringsend depot where several motorists beeped their horns in support of the picketing drivers.

Siptu shop steward Stephen Hannan said they "deeply regretted" impacting the public.

"No one wants to go on strike," he said. "There are people here with mortgages and bills to pay and the last thing they want to do is have a strike.

"Everyone regrets the inconvenience to the public, it's absolutely horrible."

However, he said that the planned further strike action is likely to go ahead.

"The way we see it is if they are giving away 10pc now the process will begin again in 2017 for routes to be tendered out in 2019. There is nothing stopping them from coming along then and saying they are tendering out 90pc of the routes," Mr Hannan added.

"That is our major concern. It is much too vague at the moment, there is nothing in the legislation to say that won't happen. We want guarantees."

Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann - which stand to lose a combined €3m in the 48-hour work stoppage - view the strike action as illegal and have warned the unions they face legal action to recoup the losses.

Dublin Bus said it will pursue a legal challenge "for financial loss, including the damage to our reputation and good standing".


Bus Eireann chief executive Martin Nolan confirmed that they would also be "seeking damages from the unions".

But Mr O'Leary was defiant, disputing the claims that the strike action is illegal and saying his union intends to counter-sue if the legal action goes ahead.

"We are involved in a fully legal industrial dispute and will respond accordingly," he said.

After today, the next strike days for both unions are planned for May 15 and 16, while the NBRU has also said its members will walk out on May 29, 30 and 31.

Mr O'Leary denied these dates were targeted because it is another Bank Holiday weekend.

"We don't pick the dates for industrial action based on how they will affect the public," he said. "There was no particular reason for picking those dates".

Mr O'Leary said he sent Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe a letter outlining the group's concerns yesterday.

Earlier in the week, Mr Donohoe had given an undertaking that jobs will be protected and that no workers would be transferred to privatised routes against their will.

He expressed disappointment that last ditch-talks at the Labour Relations Commission on Thursday had failed.

Siptu's Owen Reidy said his union is available for fresh negotiations.

"Of course we'd hope that this dispute will be settled," he said. "But if there is a continuing failure to come to an agreement then there may be an escalation in strike action."

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