'When are you going to bring in the army to drive the buses?': Complaints made during Bus Éireann strike

Commuters were affected by three weeks of industrial action earlier this year.

EARLIER THIS YEAR a three-week strike by Bus Éireann workers affected tens of thousands of people.

In May, employees voted to accept Labour Court recommendations aimed at resolving the long-running dispute - writes thejournal.ie.

Widespread changes to employees’ pay and conditions resulted in the industrial action, which shut down the bus service across the country.

Commenting on the ballot at the time, Siptu sector organiser Willie Noone said accepting the recommendations was a “pragmatic” decision by workers, as they would have “huge cultural, structural and financial implications” for all the staff.

Bus Éireann told the Labour Court the company was insolvent and the strike, which started on 24 March, could cost it up to €500,000 a day.

Around the time of the strike, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (DTTS) and Transport Minister Shane Ross received a number of complaints about it, whichTheJournal.iehas seen following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

‘Shocking and embarrassing’

On 29 March, a final year student in Limerick Institute of Technology told Ross: “It’s one month until exams and I’m unable to get to and from college easily without the bus service. It’s absolutely shocking and embarrassing that a country is not able to afford one of the most vital public services to a country’s citizens.

“I have been missing lectures and submitting documents late because of the lack of transport to college.”

The student urged Ross to intervene in the strike, writing: “The government need to realise that this company needs to be funded no matter what it costs to allow people to go to work, students to go to college, kids to school, elderly citizens to cities and towns and home again that evening…

“It would not surprise me if there was more funding being put into culture, prisons or RTE … Privatising is definitely not an option. There will be no control over costs, routes and flexibility,” they added.

In another email, a person who is visually impaired said they were “experiencing considerable difficulties as a result of the dispute”. The person said they lived in Navan and had to commute to Dublin for work, with “limited” private bus options.

“I am having to stay with my aunt and uncle who are both in their 80s which is unfair as I rent a house in Navan.I would urge Shane Ross to get involved and try and sort out this dispute,” they wrote.

Another person said the strike was impacting their life as “it takes a great deal of effort and expense to work out childcare, school runs and getting myself to college”.

Tomorrow I have to stay at home and miss three lectures as I cannot get to and from college …This is an important time of year as our semester is almost over and our lectures are half empty due to students not able to get to college without public transport.

The person added: “It is not that I do not support bus drivers, they fulfil a very important role but public transport is not an ‘optional extra’ in our society! Minister, please use your ministerial position to solve this problem.”

On 31 March, a person asked Ross why he didn’t get an injunctionto prevent picketing also happening at Irish Rail and Dublin Bus sites.

“I agree that you should not get involved in the dispute but you have a duty to prevent the public from being held to ransom by these strikers.When are you going to bring in the army to drive the buses????,” they added.

‘I apologise if I’m ranting’

In another complaint, a man wrote to the department saying he is disabled and “relies on both Bus Eireann and Irish Rail to carry out many aspects of my daily life, from getting to and from hospital appointments to just getting around”.

I do not drive so I am dependent on these services and I am having a new burden of financial and psychological issues placed upon me.

He said the strike action was “reprehensible and cowardly” and it affected “the most vulnerable people in society”.

“I think the time has come for Bus Eireann to be wound up and its services privatised, those services could not be any worse than they are now.

“As I am writing this email I will be missing a very important hospital appointment in Dublin as there is now no way to get there from my home in Enniscorthy. I thank you for your attention and I apologize [sic] if I was in any way ranting.”

Source: DTTS

On 10 April, a person living in Galway wrote: “Since the Bus Eireann workers strike I have paid roughly €20 each day to get a taxi to and from work. This is a total of over €200 to this point.

I appreciate that bus drivers – like anyone else – have rights and are entitled to strike when they feel they are not being fairly treated, I am in support of workers rights and the ability to stand for them.

However, the person said they felt this particular strike was carried out “with no consideration for the working class of the country” and with “no notice” to allow people make alternative arrangements.

“Whatever the result of this strike – I am going to be left with a lack of belief in our leadership and likely leave the country in the future.

“I have no faith that my government is in any way AWARE of how its people are affected by macro environment situations. I am of the opinion this is down to the approach of our leaders – and not the result of any isolated incident such as this strike,” they added.

Speaking about the acceptance of the Labour Court recommendations in May, Ross said “management and employees can now move on with building a successful and sustainable future forBusÉireann”.

I would once again like to thank the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court for their efforts to successfully bring about a settlement to this dispute. These institutions have once again shown that such disputes; however intractable; can be resolved by responsible parties.

“On that note, I would also like to thank management, trade unions and employees for their hard work to resolve this difficult dispute.As I have previously stated repeatedly, I am committed to establishing a dialogue with all public transport stakeholders.”

Following discussions at the Workplace Relations Commission last month , management at Bus Éireann agreed to introduce new rosters for its drivers.

At the time, Dermot O’Leary of the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) toldTheJournal.iethat “a vital component” of the dispute was agreeing on rosters across the Bus Éireann network.

Since mid-September services in the northeast, including the Navan-Cavan 109 route corridor, have experienced problems such as buses routinely failing to turn up, services being cancelled with little or no notice, and even drivers taking incorrect routes.

The company blamed the situation on the addition of new rosters and new services together with “a high level of absenteeism”, which prompted the Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty to declare that the situation amounted to an “unofficial labour dispute”.

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