Thursday, 16 September 2021
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
71. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will report on any recent communication he has had with Dublin Bus management or trade unions on industrial relations matters in the company; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44062/21]
I thank the Deputy for asking the question and I will take the opportunity to again thank all Dublin Bus employees for continuing to provide an exemplary service throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
I must clarify, as I did earlier to Deputy O'Rourke, that industrial relations issues in Dublin Bus, as is the case for all public transport operators, are a matter for the company, its employees and trade union groups. While my Department receives regular updates from Dublin Bus on industrial relations issues, neither I nor my Department have a direct role in, nor do we intervene in, such operational issues.
As I outlined in my earlier response to Deputy O’Rourke, Dublin Bus management continuously engages with its trade unions on various matters of common interest.
I understand from soundings during engagement with the company and from correspondence I have received, including a letter that was hand delivered to my Department following a gathering of Dublin Bus employees on the 20 August to highlight their opposition to the proposals, that the primary reason for the rejection of the proposal was the concern of drivers regarding the proposed changes to work practices.
I have been advised that both Dublin Bus management and the relevant trade union officials believe that there remains an appropriate industrial relations process to engage with and the parties confirmed that they have commenced further engagement on this matter.
I reiterate that, ultimately, all issues related to pay and productivity negotiations are a matter solely for the transport company, employees and trade unions. I urge all sides to continue their engagement with a view to reaching an acceptable agreement.
The backdrop to this question is the fact that 97% of Dublin Bus workers who were balloted rejected the proposals. The proposals were for changes to work practices, changes in their rostering and included lower rates for part-time drivers. The ballot was conducted with the threat of privatisation hanging over their heads but still 97% said "No". I ask the Minister to take serious note of that vote and the anger represented by it.
There is also the registered employment agreement, which was agreed in the Labour Court, that no driver should have to transfer if he or she loses a route to bus tendering. Does the Minister recognise that agreement? Does he agree that where anyone is transferred over, the NTA should fund it? This is in the agreement.
In 2015, there was an agreement that only 10% of routes were to be tendered and then only new ones. Why then is Bus Éireann, which is a sister company, tendering routes 133 and 101 over and above what was agreed back in 2015?
I very much recognise the vote. I will support the process to hopefully get a resolution to it. Our labour relations processes have, to my mind, served us well. Our trade unions do a very good job for the workers in the process. I trust the company, the management, the unions on behalf of the employees and the customers of Dublin Bus to be able to resolve this.
I do not believe what the Deputy said about the threat of privatisation. There is not a threat of privatisation. As I have said, I am a huge supporter of Dublin Bus and the provision of public services by public companies such as Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. There are ongoing changes and variations. Earlier questions asked by Deputy Naughten on Bus Éireann showed there are constant variations in how these services are provided, including which routes they manage and how they are managed. There have also been changes with the introduction of new routes such as the new orbital routes in Dublin, which are subject to tender. There are other services where Bus Éireann has won tenders, as I recall. There are also areas in which the NTA may assess that the current service level is not meeting the public's needs and in those circumstances is able to put it out to tender, which relates to the cases referred to by the Deputy.
In a situation very similar to that at Dublin Bus, we have breaking news this morning that Aer Lingus cabin crew at Dublin Airport have voted by 87% to reject proposals for a 10% wage cut, a four-year pay freeze, lower starting rates, and cuts to sick pay and shift allowances. These austerity measures are proposed by a company where the wages are, in large measure, paid by the State and which is far from idle. A total of 20 Aer Lingus flights left that airport before 8 o'clock this morning. As with Dublin Bus, these proposals were put to the workers under threat of privatisation, this time in the form of outsourcing. I congratulate the workers on their vote. I appeal to the ground staff there who are balloting from now until next Tuesday to follow the cabin crew example. I put it to the Minister that the race to the bottom and to privatisation will not work in Dublin Bus and it will not work in Aer Lingus. Does he feel that it is time the Green Party stopped supporting this privatisation, that it renationalised Aer Lingus, and that it put an end to these austerity policies that seek to put the burden of the Covid crisis onto the backs of working people?
The exact same applies, or maybe even more so, in not intervening in those labour relations issues. We do, however, have a role with regard to trying to restore our aviation industry. We have taken a series of measures including, as the Deputy said, the significant public support for workers in that industry as in other sectors, and the management of safe travel systems within Covid-19 to try to make it safe for people to get back flying. I am encouraged that 20 flights left this morning, as the Deputy said. We need to get that back. That is the best way of protecting the interests of workers and the aviation industry. We are not going to jump into the middle of an industrial dispute in that regard. Our job is to try to get all of the country back working, including the aviation sector and the vital work it does in providing connectivity to the State, including tourism and the other benefits it brings.