Stand up for Striking Busworkers

Date:

As the grey misty rain fell throughout the day – you truly knew it was winter. The fact that over 300 bus workers were gathered in this dog of an afternoon outside Dublin Bus HQ would indicate that we all have entered the season of discontent.

Dublin bus management wants to introduce two new routes, the 4a and the 128, and on these routes they want some of the drivers to start their shifts, take their breaks, and finish in the city centre. The issue here is that if you are a driver, you could start as early as 5AM; you drive to the depot, park your car there, catch the bus into town and start your shift in the city centre. Then when your shift ends you have to make your own way back across town to Harristown depot (11km from city centre) near the airport, before you can return home.

This considerably lengthens the working day. Drivers maintain that as much as ten hours a week could be added onto their working day. Back in 2004, the National Bus and Rail Union and SIPTU believed that they had reached an agreement that with Dublin Bus management that all routes operating from Harristown depot would have their starts, breaks and finishes at the depot. The agreement was not written and so the company now argues that it doesn’t exist.

A woman driver showed up on Monday morning and reported for work. She refused to do a new route which started in town. She was suspended immediately. The management of Dublin Bus wanted a fight. The bus workers have maintained all along that if management lift the suspension, and if they stick to the original agreement, they will go back to work. Effectively, this has become a lock out.

Would you ask someone to work two hours longer a day, for no extra pay? The company made profit of €4M in 2006, one of €2M in 2005. No doubt they will have another good year in 2007. But the over riding concern of management is to introduce a two-tier workforce, as they are only asking new workers to work on the disputed routes. What this is really about is the erosion of working conditions and the first steps in a battle to privatise another company.

Showing a profit, there is nothing like it to attract the interests of those free market people who want to ‘float it’. A few rich people get a lot richer and all this is done at a cost to the service and to the workers. As far as workers’ conditions go, they are jettisoned in front of the steamroller named ‘increased profits and greater efficiency’.

This sad scene has been played out before in the UK, where privatisation has lead to poorer wages for the bus drivers, and a worsening of working conditions. Also, you get competition over profitable routes, and others are abandoned as uneconomical.

I think that what we are seeing here is the inevitable place that partnership gets you to. The bosses get very comfortable and think that the laws of the land, plus the state media, plus the Labour Court, plus the government, are all on their side and they can simply decree that you should work longer, and they expect it to happen.

The danger is that it will unless we show our support now. We have a chance to stop this in its tracks. This is a case where the bullying bosses think they can push the workers around; and create a two-tier workforce. It should not be allowed. You know the facts, and you should spread the word that now is the time for solidarity with the men and women of Harristown.

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