Wednesday, 29 April 2015
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
2. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to avoid industrial action in public transport companies, particularly Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, due to plans to tender 10% of routes. [16846/15]
I wish to ask the Minister about his plans to avoid industrial action in the public transport companies, in particular, in Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. Has he any plans to address this and to avoid any actions that may take place?
I refer the Deputy to my reply to Priority Question No. 1 from Deputy Dooley in which I had an opportunity to refer to some of the points raised by Deputy Ellis. I will make a number of additional points on the matter.
I made it very clear in my intervention yesterday that were any existing employees of Dublin Bus or Bus Éireann to find themselves in a position where they were working on a route that had been tendered out to another company, they would not be required to transfer. Therefore, if Dublin Bus or Bus Éireann were to find that they lost a route due to the tendering process, drivers in those situations would face two options. On option one, I gave a commitment yesterday morning that they would not have to transfer if they did not wish to do so, because I acknowledge the degree of change involved in this, particularly in a part of the country represented by Deputy Halligan where I know this is a matter of great interest to employees located in his county. The second option for employees is that if they wish, they could transfer on existing terms and conditions. It is due to the intervention I made yesterday that a platform has been created for substantial engagement in the Labour Relations Commission. We find ourselves in a situation where, in 2015, the travelling public and employees are facing a strike about something that might happen in 2019. The Government and I have dealt with all of the matters raised by existing employees in both companies for 2015 and beyond, by giving the guidance to the management in both companies that no existing employee will be required to transfer.
It is clear the Minister may not see a problem but certainly Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann workers and the unions see a problem coming down the road. They believe that this is a drive to privatisation. I, too, believe it is a drive to privatisation. This is at a time when the number of people using the services of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann has increased substantially and now we are starting to off load 10% of our routes. There are big issues to be considered. I disagree with the Minister's two options because a private company will decide who it will employ and who it will not employ. It will not be a case of having option one and option two on the table; the private companies will make up their minds and they will cherry-pick all the routes. There is absolutely no doubt that they will cherry-pick the profitable routes. There have been cutbacks in the Dublin Bus routes in recent years and there has been a significant drop in Government funding since the Minister came into Government, with a decrease of 23% and 24%, respectively, in funding for the two companies.
The Deputy's points are absolutely wrong. I say that with respect because I know the Deputy's interest and support for both companies. It is not a case that if a private operator were to win a tender it would be able to select routes. That point is incorrect. The National Transport Authority is looking at a parcel of routes which is 10% of existing routes and it will make the decision which routes will be put out to tender. The Deputy is using the language of privatisation, which I understand he will do for political reasons, but these routes will continue to be regulated by the National Transport Authority in what is one of the most regulated markets in our country. The NTA will determine the fares and it will ensure that any tender is implemented.
I reiterate that Deputy Ellis is incorrect in the points he made. The bus markets will not be picky; a private bus company will not be picking whom it may employ or not. As a result of my intervention yesterday, it will be the choice of the employee. I made that intervention because of the respect I have for both companies and the work they have done but also because of the commitment that if and when we increase investment in the future, it will deliver a better return for the taxpayer who is paying for that investment.
The Minister always blames the NTA, which is the regulator. Does the Minister not have influence in this situation? Privatisation is an ideology that is driven by his own party, Fine Gael. That is the problem. Even at this late hour, will the Minister intervene or even talk to the unions and not remain at arm's length in his dealings? Will he ask the unions to talk to him? Will he explain to them what is happening? Does he intend to coalesce with private interests in order to break this strike because that is what seems to be happening? This is a very important stand by the workers because they see what is coming down the road, as I do. What engagement has the Minister undertaken with the unions on these privatisation plans before going ahead with them? Did he explain what was going to happen?
It is one thing just to ignore everything I just said a moment ago but it is another thing to ignore everything I said yesterday. The Deputy is asking me to intervene but I remind him of what I did yesterday and what the Government did. We made a very comprehensive intervention to respond to the concerns of employees which I appreciate they would have. I repeat what we said yesterday. This Government said yesterday that were any employees to find themselves in a position that their company - be it Dublin Bus or Bus Éireann - were not to win a tendered route, those employees will not be required to transfer. That is a comprehensive response to the issues that have been raised by employees. Deputy Ellis asked what kind of direct engagement I have had with the unions. I met them all before Christmas and my Department had recent contact with them but I wish to emphasise that the best place for these matters to be dealt with is in the Labour Relations Commission.