Republican News · Thursday 30 March 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Dublin Bus workers ``will not be defeated''

BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN

Public bus and rail services throughout the 26 Counties ground to a halt this week as thousands of CIE workers either took unofficial industrial action or refused to pass secondary pickets placed by Dublin Bus workers.

 
TDs are seeking a 28% wage increase without any talk of their productivity or having to finance this wage increase through cutting other costs.
Dublin DART services and Iarnród Éireann intercity services were halted by industrial action taken by 800 line maintenance staff on Tuesday. By Wednesday, 29 March, Bus Éireann services had also stopped. The Dublin Bus workers had originally placed pickets on the city's bus depots as part of their rolling industrial action, begun in February. Last week, bus services were halted for two days. This week's stoppage is due to last three days, four days next week with an all-out strike beginning on 10 April.

Dublin Bus drivers represented by the National Bus and Rail Workers Union (NBRU) are seeking a 20% wage rise. Their wage claim was first made last

August.

The NBRU's claim was made on the basis that their drivers are among the lowest paid of any other comparable EU cities. They have, since 1987, agreed six productivity agreements with Dublin Bus.

During this time, the state subvention for Dublin Bus has fallen from 16 million in 1987 to 3.8 million last year. Dublin Bus drivers believe that the cuts in the state subvention has been financed through their low wages.

Already this year there, has been a one-day stoppage in February that led finally to discussions between Dublin Bus management and unions at the Labour Relations Commission. These talks broke up on 9 March without agreement and since then, Dublin Bus management and the Dublin government, which is the actual employers of all CIE workers, have let the clock count down to this week's stoppage.

A war of words has broken out, with Dublin Bus taking out advertisements in national newspapers and Public Enterprise minister Mary O'Rourke holding her counsel when the conciliation talks broke down, but intervening in Leinster House this week after the strike action had already begun. O'Rourke called on the strikers to end their action and start talks.

Dublin Bus ads have told customers that the 20% wage claim would cost the company 9.5 million. The ad also claims that the ``majority of drivers earn on average 22,400 per annum, which is 5,000 in excess of the average industrial wage''.

NBRU general Secretary Peter Bunting told An Phoblacht that drivers can earn this money but would have to work 7 days a week, clocking up to 20 hours overtime. Many workers are putting in these hours to meet the costs of providing for their families especially in the context of ever increasing housing costs.

Bunting also said that the union had offered 2 million in cost saving measures as a method to bridge the gap between the two sides, but Dublin Bus were not prepared to negotiate on the offer.

Commuter hopes were raised during the early part of the week that some sort of emergency rush hour service would be offered in the capital. Dublin Bus workers were willing to consider the service if there was no charge to consumers. An Phoblacht asked Peter Bunting why the service had not materialised. He said it was a ``propaganda stunt'' by Dublin Bus. The NBRU had repeatedly asked the company how it proposed to run this emergency service and they didn't have any details formulated.

Media commentators have given the dispute a much wider dimension than merely being a CIE dispute. The NBRU action has been portrayed as a dispute where the government is determined to face down any challenges to the Partnership for Prosperity and Fairness (PPF). The logic is that the bus drivers have to be tackled in this way in order to set an example for any other trade unions seeking to secure wage increases in excess of the PPF commitments.

Peter Bunting dismissed this analysis. He said that the NBRU claim was made six months before the PPF was ratified. The NBRU was not party to the PPF and that they maintain that their claim was clearly outside both it and the Partnership 2000 agreement.

The NBRU has also hit out at those in the trade union movement who were critical of their strike action. Peter Bunting admonished those who had criticised the NBRU. He told An Phoblacht that ``I would never condemn any trade union leadership for seeking to better the wages and working conditions of its members''.

Many of the bus workers, both in the media and on the picket line, have highlighted the difference in treatment between Leinster House deputies and the bus drivers.

TDs are seeking a 28% wage increase without any talk of their productivity or having to finance this wage increase through cutting other costs.

It seems that there is indeed a significant double standard. It is amazing how many interest groups both in Leinster House, in the employers' organisations and among Dublin City traders, who don't want this dispute resolved. They want private buses on our streets. They want the army brought in. In essence, they want the strike broken.

Peter Bunting is adamant that the bus drivers will stand firm. ``This union will not be defeated by any government,'' he said. The current phase of the dispute ends today, Thursday, leaving the Dublin government with ample time to act to set up real negotiations to end this dispute. It will be a real test of the new Partnership agreement to see if they can take this simple first step.


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