We have seen in the recent months industrial action in the transport sector and the Gardaí. The 21 days strike at Bus Eireann is particular divisive for the CIE organisation and the bus drivers. In such an intensely fought industrial conflict there are no real winners only losers. Trust between the parties is broken which will take a long time to restore. However, we have yet to see if the Labour Court recommendations will be accepted by both parties. Even if the recommendations will be accepted by both parties it will take a great effort on both parties to get back to normal relations if that ever happens.
This industrial action at Bus Eireann didn’t happen alone it was preceded by successful actions at Luas and Dublin Bus and their terms were used as a benchmark for the demands of Bus Eireann. Dublin Bus achieved with their action a pay rise of 11.25% over three years. That was the starting point for the union actions at Bus Eireann, unions wanted a similar pay agreement for Bus Eireann. The unions SIPTU and NBRU ignored the financial state of the company which was seriously loss making and on the edge of insolvency. The unions expected the government and the minister of Transport Shane Ross to fill any financial short comings.
However the situation at semi state companies have changed in recent years. Aer Lingus a former semi state company has been privatised and is now in the hands of British Airways. RTE has to reorganise again, sell its assets to finance its existence and there will be voluntary redundancies in this semi state company. Semi state companies in the modern era need to be viable companies in order to survive. Too much has changed, there are viable alternatives to RTE and Aer Lingus and there will be viable alternatives to Bus Eireann as well, where commercial transport companies can run bus routes and unviable bus routes can be subsidised by the government as is the case with Bus Eireann.
The unions gambled that through their actions they could force the government to financially intervene and bail out Bus Eireann. The company itself would never be in a state to give in to the demands of the unions as that would mean immediate insolvency and the end of Bus Eireann.
It is a weak starting point if unions expect the government to support financially unsound companies with seriously inefficient work practises. In the end this is never going to work and is a recipe for disaster.
It is also selfish of those transport unions who want to have their pay demands dealt with before others such as the nurses and teachers come to the table. These unions don’t make an assessment where the monies in society is most needed; health care, sick children etc. This is pure mé féinn and we will look after the others later once we have our pay increases.
Unions should demand that their company to be efficient and well organised. A Swedish union official once said that companies are like milking cows who should be milked for what they are worth. However sick, undernourished and badly looked after cows will never deliver a big yield. Any farmer can tell you that and if you keep milking them they will perish.
What is needed are unions who will work with companies and ensure that they are viable organisations and then there should be a trade-off that the workers are fairly reworded for their efforts.
So after 21 days of strike which started for a pay increase and failed WRC guided negotiations we have now a Labour Court recommendation with pay cuts and redundancies before both parties. We are far away from a viable company with a contented workforce. The unions overstated their case, expected the state to bail them out, when that didn’t happen they blamed everybody and in the end unions were only looking for pay cuts and redundancies at management level to balance things out and have a story for their members.
If the Labour Court recommendations are rejected we are in for an interesting time. The tactics and strategies of the transport unions are in a shambles. However I wouldn’t be surprised if there is an all-out strike of all CIE companies: Dublin Bus, Iarnrod Eireann and Bus Eireann to give their demands one last push.