Bus Éireann unions have formally served notice of all out indefinite strike action from 20 February if the company proceeds with planned cuts to pay and conditions on that date.

The National Bus and Rail Union has accused Bus Éireann's acting Chief Executive Ray Hernan of "throwing an incendiary device at an already volatile situation".

Yesterday Mr Hernan told RTÉ News he was prepared to meet unions anywhere and anytime without preconditions in a bid to resolve the row over a survival plan which would include significant pay cuts for staff.

He said he was prepared to consider any proposals the unions might have on how to secure the required annual savings of €30 million - €12 million of which are being sought from payroll.

However, yesterday Bus Éireann unions decided that they will mount an all out indefinite strike from 00.01 on Monday 20 February if the company proceeds unilaterally with cuts.

In the letter to Mr Hernan to serve formal strike notice, NBRU General Secretary Dermot O'Leary said that for the acting CEO to suggest that the trade unions should come up with alternative proposals to produced €12 million in payroll savings as a component of a previously unseen target of €30 million, was clearly designed to create what he called an "unbridgeable gulf" between the parties.

He claimed the company's position that it would protect core pay, while imposing cuts to shift and overtime rates of up to €8,000 for a bus driver on €42,000, was insulting. 

Mr O'Leary described as regrettable that his members have to resort to strike action, but said the NBRU will remain available for discussions "should the company wish to revert to negotiating instead of taking unilateral and provocative action".

Meanwhile the National Transport Authority has confirmed that it will deduct up to €125,000 per day from Bus Éireann for loss of service if the company goes on strike.

The deduction would be lower at the weekend at around €75,000 per day.

So far no talks are planned between management and unions.

Meanwhile, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has urged management and unions to commence talks with a view to averting industrial action.

Speaking in Limerick, Mr Noonan said he felt there was a willingness on both sides to come together for discussions and he encouraged them to proceed.

He said nobody wanted to see a situation where buses would not be running later this month.

There is not much scope for government intervention in the dispute, he said, adding that the issues in question were a matter for management and unions to thrash out.

He said industrial relations issues were common but these always needed to be resolved.

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