Wednesday, 29 April 2015
7. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in view of the industrial action proposed by the trade unions, if the Government will continue to support the privatisation of 10% of Dublin Bus routes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16502/15]
Will the Minister and Government will press ahead with the policy of beginning to privatise Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, which is forcing thousands of workers to forgo wages this Friday, May Day, International Workers' Day, by taking industrial action to protect the public ownership of the transport system and their own pay and conditions? Will the Minister pursue the policy of privatisation or meet the workers and engage in constructive discussions with them?
I covered some of this matter earlier in an answer to a priority question from Deputies Dooley and Ellis. At the end of last year, I met the unions regarding the matter and I instigated a process through the Labour Relations Commission, LRC, to respond to the issues the union leaders raised on behalf of their members. The Deputy asked about the terms and conditions of existing employees. I reiterate the statement I made yesterday, that no worker whose route goes to tender and is transferred to another company would be required to transfer as a result. I have dealt with the terms and conditions issues raised by unions on behalf of their members. Yesterday morning, I briefed the Cabinet because I take it as a very serious issue for workers and for the travelling public. Millions of euro will be lost to both companies and millions of journeys will be affected if the seven days of action go ahead. Given that I have dealt with all the issues regarding terms and conditions, why should the strike go ahead based on something that might happen in four years' time?
I will answer the Minister's question. It is because workers are not stupid. While the Minister has given a commitment that he will not transfer existing workers into any privatised company, the public service obligation ends in 2019, only four years away, and they know all bets will be off then. Any new element of the company that would be privatised would be used to drive down pay and conditions. We saw what happened with the Luas, where there are worse conditions and no trade union rights. The public element of the company would be benchmarked against it.
Government policy is to privatise. What the Government is doing is hilarious. It is taking out advertisements to bully people in their 30s to take out private health insurance, but wants us to believe it would not privatise transport or water. Privatisation is part of the Government's neo-liberal agenda. There is 90% support for the strike. The workers know what privatisation means. For the travelling public in the UK, it has meant an increase of 20% in fares in London and 12% in rural areas. The taxpayer has had to step in and prop up these private operators because they could not make enough profits.
My intervention yesterday is the oddest example of neo-liberalism recently seen. Yesterday, I said employees whose routes might go to another company would not be required to move. This is a process in which both companies would be able to participate. The employee would have the choice. I recognise the legitimate concerns employees have raised, while also saying the Government is committed to investing in both companies. We are not doing what the UK did. As the Deputy knows, in some regions the UK Government put the entire market, or large parts of it, out to tender. We are not doing this. We are putting 10% of existing routes out to tender.
Again, I ask the Minister to listen. I just explained why the workers do not accept the Minister's reassurance. The public service obligation will end in 2019 and all bets will be off. This is a stealth process. Of course the Government is not going to privatise 100% of the transport system in one fell swoop. It will begin with 10% and take a softly softly approach. The workers are right to take action now rather than look back with regret in four or five years' time. Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann workers do not enjoy brilliant pay and conditions. Under austerity in the past few years, they have accepted significant pay cuts and worse terms and conditions. Some €55 million has been cut from Dublin Bus since 2009. However, they know that if they join the private sector it will be much worse. This has been the experience of all transport workers.
The Minister took no action until the strike was called. In the past few days he has come out with the reassurance that nobody will be forcibly moved, but he did so only when strike action was called. I call on the workers not to back down but to plough ahead and take full strength from solidarity and see the effects it has already brought from the Minister.
The Deputy went on to say I had not engaged on the matter. A few moments ago, I described the engagement I had with the unions directly and the length of the process that went on, through the LRC, that involved the unions and the employers, to seek to respond on the matters that are being dealt with. I pointed out that the approach being taken here in Ireland is entirely different from that being taken in other countries. The Deputy accused us of having some agenda on the privatisation of both companies despite the fact that, last year, I invested over €100 million in both companies to represent the very kind of need the Deputy is doing her best to represent here today. I was responding to matters raised by the companies and unions in the past. This is the track record of investment by the Government in them and I have given a commitment that, as I expect the demand for public transport to grow in the future, the Government will seek to match the demand through investment.