The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) has dismissed the threat of legal action by Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus to recover the costs of the bus strike, saying the move is "clearly unnecessary and vexatious".

The comments were made by lawyers for the union in response correspondence this evening. 

The industrial action is a response to plans to put 10% of public bus routes out to private tender.

Bus lanes are in operation as normal and may only be used by  taxis, cyclists, private bus companies and emergency services until the strike concludes at midnight on Saturday.

Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus served legal letters to SIPTU and the NBRU last night informing them they will seek compensation for losses including reputational damage.

Dublin Bus estimates the strike will cost €600,000 a day in lost revenue - not including a daily fine from the National Transport Authority of €150,000 a day.

The strike is expected to cost Bus Éireann €1.5m plus an NTA fine of around €80,000 a day.

If the legal action were successful, it could cost the trade unions millions. 

NBRU lawyers strenuously deny that the strike is illegal, adding that the industrial action arises from a bona fide trade dispute.

They say they elected to ballot members on foot of a decision to privatise existing public services and the implications for the members' terms and conditions.

The say the fact that Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus have taken their actions on foot of directions from the National Transport Authority does not release the companies from their duties and obligations to their employees.

The letter on behalf of the NBRU describes the companies' threat to issue High Court proceedings for damages as "nothing more than an attempt to intimidate our clients members from exercising their statutory, Constitutional and European Convention rights to withdraw their labour in an attempt to persuade their employer to comply with their demands".

The letter concludes that the union will rely on this correspondence to fix the bus companies with the entire costs of any proceedings that are issued, which they describe as clearly unnecessary and vexatious.

Legal action last resort - bus companies

A Bus Éireann spokesperson this afternoon said: "Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus wished to exhaust every avenue of talks and discussion, before embarking on a legal action as a last and final resort.  

"We remained optimistic that there were be a breakthrough and aversion of the strike, right up until the breakdown of exploratory talks at the LRC yesterday evening.

"It was only then that the decision was finalised to initiate a legal challenge."

Speaking in Castlebar, Co Mayo this afternoon Taoiseach Enda Kenny said there are no winners as a result of the industrial action by bus workers.

Mr Kenny said he hoped that further strike action would be called off. 

Threat of legal action will only harden resolve among workers - NBRU

In a letter today to Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe and the Chief Executives of Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and the National Transport Authority, NBRU General Secretary Dermot O'Leary said the threat of legal action against unions has done a disservice to employees and customers.

He told the chief executives of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, Paddy Doherty and Martin Nolan, that attacking workers and their representatives can only lead to a hardening of resolve among staff.

Mr O'Leary said the companies, the NTA and the minister will all be aware that the process initiated by the Labour Relations Commission last August was intended to resolve all of the issues at the heart of the current dispute.

He said that central to this process was what he called an "agreed interlocked agenda" which contained issues tabled by the parties, including those raised by the bus companies.

He said the agenda included:

1. The issue of direct award contracts after 2019, the capacity of the state bus companies to tender, and related issues;

2. Pension issues;

3. The National Transport Authority role in ensuring commitments on terms and conditions are honoured by new providers;

4. The timeframe regarding the phasing of the 10% of route tenders and the issue of growth;

5.  Engagement on route selection for Bus Éireann;

6. Clarification of legacy cost issues;

7. The application of Transfer of Undertakings legislation for workers potentially transferring to private operators;

8. Clarification of the tender process.

In his letter, Mr O'Leary added that all of those issues need to be addressed to the point where "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed".

He said that the minister's intervention earlier this week assuring that no employee would have to transfer to a private operator was interpreted by the NBRU as a vehicle for talks to recommence.

However, he said that the recent intervention by NTA Chief Executive Anne Graham had led to a "crystallisation" of the fears and concerns of members.

Mr O'Leary said the NBRU message to stakeholders is that no one party to the process can resolve the dispute, and that it behoves all stakeholders on both sides of the debate to collectively address the issues on the agreed interlocked agenda.

He concluded by saying that the NBRU remains implacably opposed to privatisation, and will continue to highlight what he calls the "flawed ideologically based attempt to hijack publicly-owned bus companies".

He said this policy is a bad deal for the taxpayer and will trigger a race to the bottom.