By Mick Barry TD
Bus Éireann’s proposals for a 30% cut in take-home pay for their drivers, possible compulsory redundancies and casualisation of work represent a declaration of war. Owing to the precedent that it would set, it represents a declaration of war not merely on bus drivers but on all public transport workers and the working class as a whole.
Even when the hated Troika ruled the country they did not dare to propose wage cutting measures as vicious as this one.
Cuts to services
Other plans to slash Éireann services represent a serious attack on provincial and rural Ireland. Transport Minister Shane Ross displayed great energy fighting to save Stepaside Garda Station in his own constituency. However he is displaying far less energy trying to defend rural communities outside his own constituency when they are under attack from Bus Éireann.
The Government and Transport Minister Shane Ross are trying to play a game of Pontius Pilate, saying this is not their business and a matter only for Bus Éireann management and unions. This will fool no one.
Instead, if the Government and Bus Éireann provoke a national bus strike or a national public transport strike they will find themselves caught up in a firestorm. National strikes of this kind have the potential to bring this Government to their knees.
Fund public transport
Right-wing governments in this country were prepared to bail out the banks to the tune of scores of billions of euro. But they are not prepared to bail out a public transport company to the tune of even a couple of million euro.
The Government are clearly operating a privatisation agenda here.
Private operators have been granted licenses for the lucrative intercity routes. They pay their drivers rates of pay well below the union rates paid to Bus Éireann drivers. It is a race to the bottom which Bus Éireann management are only to happy to play.
These licences should never have been given in the first place. We must demand a transport system that is in full democratic public ownership so that the rights of workers can by upheld and the needs of customers can be met.
The private operators should be compelled to respect a threshold of decency and pay rates equal to the rates paid to unionised drivers in Bus Éireann rather than it following their example and driving rates downwards.
Ireland is consistently ranked one of the 20 richest countries in the world. It should have a world class public transport system.
Powerful response needed
Instead right wing governments have forced it to survive on rations with state support for Iarnrod Éireann halved in recent years and Dublin Bus forced to operate on a subsidy less than half that of equivalent companies in other European capitals.
The government and management at Bus Éireann are pointing to the difficult financial of the company having made a loss of €6 million in 2016. The unions at the company must demand that public transport be run as a service based on need rather on profit and consequently must be funded centrally by taxing the super-rich and big business.
Failure to withdraw the proposed attacks on workers pay and conditions must be met with a powerful response.
A national bus strike or a national public transport strike could win public support, defeat the Government and put real state investment for public transport on the agenda.