Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 22 March 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport
Bus Éireann Dispute: Motion
That the Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport calls on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to implement the actions called for in the motion regarding Bus Éireann passed by Dáil Éireann on 2nd February 2017;
Take more deteremined actions to prevent nationwide industrial action at Bus Éireann and;
Agree to the establishment of a forum to deal with policy related issues that are pertinent to the industrial dispute and the financial state of Bus Éireann and that fall outside the remit of the Workplace Relations Commission.
I am seeking cross-party agreement to support this motion. It calls on the Minister to implement the actions of the motion put to the Dáil on 2 February. It is now almost two months or six weeks from that decision and the situation in Bus Éireann has got progressively worse.
We know there is a board meeting this morning in Bus Éireann with the possibility of implementing unilateral cuts without the agreement of the unions. The consequences of such action will see a nationwide strike. A strike has the potential to cause losses of up to €500,000 per day and is not going to benefit anyone, whether the company, the workers or the tens of thousands of people who rely on Bus Éireann on a daily basis to get to work, college, medical appointments or whatever.
To date the Minister has been slow to provide leadership and guidance. I accept that we have an arm of the State, the Workplace Relations Commission, to negotiate between unions and management in respect of the terms and conditions of the workers. However, what the Minister does not seem to accept is that the losses that have built up or accumulated at Bus Éireann during recent years are not as a consequence of the actions of the workers. The unions have agreed to implement cost efficiencies to help to address the deficit, but the €30 million deficit that needs to be addressed cannot be dealt with, nor should the Minister expect it to be dealt with, through the Workplace Relations Commission.
I will outline what needs to happen. As stipulated and clearly outlined in the motion of 2 February of this year, we need to look at how the social protection contract is paid. We need to look at the subvention that is being paid. Moreover, there needs to be a full review into how licences are issued to private contractors. That has not happened to date.
The Minister has said that he has no problem talking to the people after an agreement has taken place at the Workplace Relations Commission. Now, we are looking at a situation whereby, within the coming weeks, if a solution is not agreed then Bus Éireann could be insolvent. People talk about trying to bolt the door when the horse has gone. That is what this Minister is doing. We need to send a clear message from this committee that the Minister needs to engage with the key stakeholders on this issue. The key stakeholders are the National Transport Authority, the management of Bus Éireann, the unions representing the workers and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. These parties need to engage to ensure that the structural changes being put forward are agreed and can be implemented without delay. One thing is sure: any plan that emanates from the management without the agreement of the unions is not going to work. If a plan does not work, then all we are doing is pushing the problem further down the line.
I call on the members of the committee to support this motion. We should write to the Minister and make the case that this committee reaffirms the decision taken by the majority of the Dáil on 2 February 2017 and that the Minister should establish a forum without delay and engage all the key stakeholders to ensure that a resolution is brought to bear quickly.
It was remiss of me not to point out before now that this is not something that has taken place over night or over recent weeks. The precarious financial situation that Bus Éireann finds itself in has been known to this Minister and was known to the previous Minister for in excess of 12 months, but no action has been taken. The Minister continues to take little or no action. Now is the time for the Minister to bring the key stakeholders together and come up with a holistic approach rather than try to say the deficit facing Bus Éireann can be resolved through the WRC. It cannot.
The motion is effectively calling on the Minister to intervene at Bus Éireann. I will be voting for the motion. Even at this late stage, I wish to add my voice to the voices calling on the Minister to intervene in the situation. However, in large measure the motion is being overtaken by events. As we speak, an emergency board meeting of Bus Éireann has been under way for a little under an hour. It seems increasingly clear that the Minister, the Government and the board of Bus Éireann are preparing an almighty gamble in their determined attempts to boost an agenda that includes privatisation.
In that case, I will be supporting the motion. However, I wish to make clear that if the Minister, the Government and the board carry on the way they are carrying on, we are headed for a bus strike. Anyone in the country who is interested in workers' rights and the future of public transport will need to get behind the bus workers. That includes the Dublin Bus workers and the rail workers too.
I second the motion. The Minister, Deputy Ross, has sat on the fence for too long on this issue. He has gone from crisis to crisis. The issues outside the remit of the WRC should have been resolved first. They relate to increased funding for Bus Éireann for the free travel passengers and the-----
The motion refers to what came out of the Dáil debate during Private Members' business. That is what I am referring to.
We need to ensure a level playing field between Bus Éireann and the private operators. It is difficult to find a speedy resolution without all factors being taken into account. That is why the Minister needs to get involved immediately.
According to procedure, the first thing we have to do is open the debate specifically to Deputy Troy's motion. If you do not wish to comment specifically on Deputy Troy's motion, you may prefer to move your amendment. I can move on to it at a later stage.
We all agree with the first part of the motion. The motion passed through the Houses of the Oireachtas at the start of February. It included a call to increase in the travel pass subsidy and all of that. I have no problem with any of that. However, the two additional parts of the motion are not specific enough. Given the stage we are at now, those in Bus Éireann management are back to being their provocative selves and that the Minister is missing in action again, I believe the motion does not go far enough. We have all repeatedly called on the Minister to get involved. The fact is that the motion does not detail exactly what we want to do in respect of getting down to coming out with carrying out a review relating to the over-saturation of routes and the identification of those routes.
The motion is not specific enough in identifying where those licences were issued, when they were issued and the figures as to how they resulted in a loss-making position. All of that needs to be out in the open and to be clear. As the committee will be aware, for the past few months neither the NTA nor the Minister, nor the Department, has been transparent in giving members those figures. If we are to get to the bottom of it and separate it from the reasons for the financial crisis as opposed to focusing on, blaming and targeting the workers who did not create this crisis, we need to be more specific.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “to prevent nationwide industrial action at Bus Éireann and;” substitute the following -
- Demonstrate leadership by facilitating talks between all relevant stakeholders, including unions, Bus Éireann management, the National Transport Authority and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.
- Commit to the carrying out of a full review of operations of the Expressway service and the Expressway market;
- Commit to carry out a review of loss-making routes on which private carriers currently operate, including the number of private licences issued on these routes, when these licences were issued, and when these routes ceased to make a profit due to over-saturation;
No. It is pretty much as I said. It is clear that the workers have been targeted. It is clear that they did not create this crisis. It is clear the Minister has adopted a hands-off approach. An opportunity to get involved was afforded to him repeatedly. The Minister was asked repeatedly - even if he did not want to get involved - to get his Department involved along with the NTA, Bus Éireann management and the unions and he repeatedly refused. We are now back to square one, as in potential strike action and still nothing is being done. In order to get to the crux of identifying what exactly is the financial crisis, we must commit to carrying out a review of all of the routes that have contributed - because of the licences operated on them and the over-saturation - to that financial crisis. In addition to all the other aspects of the motion passed on 2 February, given the provocative nature of Bus Éireann management and the stand-off approach of the Minister, we need to pin them down exactly to find out because we will not get clarity or transparency unless we are specific. Being vague is merely letting them off the hook.
Deputy Munster's amendment talks about carrying out of a full review of the operations of the Expressway service and the Expressway market. That is included in the motion that was passed by the Dáil on 2 February already and that is why my party did not specify it again. It was included and has been voted on and passed by the Dáil on 2 February 2017.
It is the Minister's responsibility to bring a forum together to deal with all policy-related issues, which include how the NTA issues licences and how the licences have been awarded in the past. Much of Deputy Munster's amendment is included in the original motion that has been put before the Oireachtas committee today. We are far better off to be at one as a committee in sending a clear message to the Minister, rather than being pedantic and splitting hairs over certain wordings.
I put forward the motion in good faith three weeks ago, as the clerk to the committee can confirm, because of the ongoing difficulties in Bus Éireann and to give all members of the Oireachtas committee an opportunity to support the motion and to send a clear unambiguous message to the Minister, Deputy Ross. It has to be said that this committee has sent messages to Deputy Ross, both in writing and in person when he has been here before us talking about the difficulties facing Bus Éireann and unfortunately they have fallen on deaf years thus far. The Minister cannot abdicate his responsibility any longer. This is becoming a serious issue. We are now looking at the possibility of Bus Éireann, the semi-State company that has been providing public transport across the country, being insolvent in a matter of weeks, if not months. It is the Minister's responsibility, as the main shareholder in this company, to intervene without delay.
As we have no other contributors on the amendment, I merely wish to clarify that the Dáil and Seanad were not sitting last week and the week before we were off campus for our meeting at the national sports campus. That was the reason of the delay.
I would like the amendment to stand as it is. I would have had no problem supporting Deputy Troy's motion if I did not feel it was vague. The reason, as I said, we need to be more specific is because the Minister, Bus Éireann management and the NTA are all being so provocative in their approach and blaming the workers. There is a need, at this stage, to be specific in what we request of the Minister and Bus Éireann, including the details in the latter part of my amendment.
In accordance with Standing Orders, I will now put the question in respect of Deputy Munster's amendment first. If the amendment is carried, the motion, as amended, is carried and the committee will report back to the Houses as such. If the amendment is defeated, I will put the question on the original motion and if that is carried, then the committee will report back to the Houses as such.
I, for one, will not play party politics with this issue. I am disappointed that Deputy Munster could not support the motion that was put in three weeks ago but I will not divide the committee on the wording of a motion. The principle of the motion, we are all agreed, is that the Minister, Deputy Ross, needs to intervene and I will not get pedantic over wording. I will abstain on this motion and allow the amendment go ahead.