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Our motion seeks to provide a route map towards the satisfactory resolution of the Dublin Bus dispute-Nash

28 September 2016

Speech by Senator Ged Nash
Spokesperson on Employment and Social Protection

I am pleased to move this motion on behalf of the Labour Party. The motion seeks to provide a route map towards the satisfactory resolution of the Dublin Bus dispute. It also seeks the introduction of a new mechanism, designed to complement and support the work of government, and our excellent industrial relations institutions to promote and sustain fairness in the workplace and to attain industrial peace.

Rather than sitting on the sidelines and making political capital from a complex industrial dispute, we wish to be constructive and helpful. No worker withdraws their labour if they feel there is a better alternative. Nobody wants to see businesses and jobs damaged as a result of disputes that, if alternative approaches and responses were considered, might have ultimately been avoided.

I am pleased to see the trade unions and Dublin Bus management engaged again on a formal basis at the WRC, and we are all hopeful that a resolution can be reached.

For a host of reasons, Labour supports the Dublin Bus workers and we support their right to seek better pay and conditions by collectively bargaining with their employer.

This is at the core of what we believe in. That is why during my own short term as Employment Minister, I was pleased to have introduced new collective bargaining legislation and a new system of Registered Employment Agreements and Sectoral Employment Orders.

And this new system is working, and working well. And it is working well and in the longer term interest,  for Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann workers.

Last Monday week, a new REA was registered with the Labour Court, signed by Dublin Bus, Bus Eireann, SIPTU, the NBRU, TSSA and UNITE trade unions.

This new agreement – the terms of which are binding – says that, in the event that contracts are awarded to another operator as a result of a tendering process – that no current employee would have to compulsorily transfer to the new operator.

It also guarantess, in that context, that in the eventuality that a transfer were to take place, that the current terms and conditions enjoyed by Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann staff will not be negatively affected as a result of the tendering of any services that might occur.

This important development for the long term security of bus workers would not have been possible without the legislative action taken by the Labour Party in government. We deal with the reality of the world as we find it, and not just how we would like it to be.

When the circus performers on the populist left see industrial disputes and the fomenting of angst and discontent as an end in itself, Labour and the bulk of the trade union movement are in the business of providing solutions to the complex problems confronting our society and our economy.

 

Regrettably, the prospect of a coming winter of discontent is very real. And this chilling vista appears to be coming into view partly because of the incapacity of this government to make even the most basic of decisions.

Nobody expects the Minister for Transport to directly intervene in an industrial dispute. This would be unwise. We have sophisticated IR machinery available to address IR issues in a professional and expert fashion. And the WRC and the Labour Court have served, and continue to serve the State well.

Sometimes, industrial disputes are about much more than pay, and terms and conditions. Rumbling in the background is a fear that the current Minister is at best unsympathetic to, and at worst downright ideologically hostile to the idea that we should have commercial semi-state companies providing public transport in the first place.

Five months into his job – Shane Ross has still not outlined his policy priorities. Given his performance to date, we can only conclude that public transport isn’t one of them.

In order to stem the crisis of confidence, Minister Ross must develop a roadmap for the restoration of the Dublin Bus subvention to pre-crisis levels and ensure that government support for our public transport providers is at a level that is at least comparable to that enjoyed by analogous cities across Europe.

A decent public transport system that is well managed and where those who are delivering that service for the public, day in and day out, is vital for the economy of our capital and for social cohesion.

The Labour Party believes that good, accountable value for money public services are worth paying for, and we are calling on the government to set out a sustainable funding model for Dublin Bus to allow it to plan for the future with confidence.

This is one key contribution government can make now towards a sustainable resolution to the Dublin Bus dispute.

Given the dysfunctionality that characterises the government, it needs all the help it can get to manage and deal with some of the big social and economic issues facing us as a country.

Our motion also calls for the establishment by government, with the social partners of an Employer-Labour Conference.

The question could be asked – would the Dublin Bus dispute have escalated to this point if such a body had been in existence in recent months? I very much doubt it.

Again, I want to reiterate my hope that this action can be resolved at the WRC. We are all proud of the valuable work done, day and day out, by the WRC and the Labour Court.

But all too often, these bodies are mobilised in crisis situations, when the gulf between the actors is so large as to be unbridgeable.

This kind of body was never more necessary. We are in a period of political flux. The space available for wise heads has diminished.

Such bodies – made up of experts from both sides of industry – are a permanent and important feature of the landscape in progressive northern European countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland.

They, like Ireland, are open, market economies who trade with the world and are more open than many other countries to shocks and tremors internationally.

The Employer-Labour Conference model would work by forging a consensus around big policy challenges and would support and complement the work of the WRC and the Labour Court.

It would assist, not hamper, the work of a government which is in office, but not in power.

An Employer-Labour Conference could be deployed to deal with major policy questions such as Brexit, the impending pensions crisis and yes, the question of how we fund our critical public services such as transport. 

This model, which was in place in the 1970s and 1980s before being subsumed into social partnership with its last iteration being the National Implementation Body would help to attain industrial peace and would have a utility beyond the Dublin Bus dispute which we all hope can settled shortly at the WRC.