Threat to Athlone-Westport bus route

Robert Grace

Bus Éireann is considering axing its Athlone to Westport service in cost cutting-measures aimed at preventing the company descending into insolvency.

Should the company prove unable to reduce its costs by close to €30 million by May of this year, management say there are real fears it will be declared insolvent.

Bus Éireann has proposed a number of cost-cutting changes to avoid this possibility, including unilateral pay cuts, redundancies, and the closure of certain depots and routes.

Along with the proposed cessation of the Athlone to Westport service, it has also been proposed to close the Dublin to Clonmel and Dublin to Derry routes.

This is not the first time the Athlone to Westport service has come under threat. A campaign launched by Bus Éireann in 2014, aptly titled ‘Use it or lose it’, encouraged use of the route, but with little success.

Talks between Bus Éireann and the unions representing its employees at the Workplace Relations Commission broke down on Tuesday afternoon this week. A statement release by Bus Éireann in the wake of that meeting accused the unions of being unwilling to negotiate or compromise on any issue.

“The company has attempted to negotiate with the unions and has put every conceivable issue on the table without pre-conditions in an effort to address the financial crisis and ensure longer term competitiveness. The unions response to date has been to refuse to negotiate any change to terms and conditions, insist on a pay rise and seek compensation for staff who may have had a reduction in overtime earnings over the last few weeks,” the statement read.

“What is clear at this stage is that the unions have no intention of reaching an agreement which will address the financial crisis. At current run rates of losses, the company could be insolvent by May,” it continued. “Immediate reductions in cost and improved efficiency are absolutely necessary to address the financial crisis. These initiatives must result in payroll savings of €12m now. The unions have refused to negotiate on terms and conditions which means that the insolvency issue cannot be addressed. Re-structuring is essential for longer term competitiveness but will not address the immediate insolvency crisis.”

Unions hit back by blaming management for the breakdown in talks, and warned that any instigation of cuts would result in an all-out strike by employees.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has urged management and employees to resume talks to work out a solution in the interest of everybody involved.

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