Talks are due to resume at the Workplace Relations Commission this morning between Bus Éireann management and unions.

The talks are aimed at averting all-out, indefinite strike over the company's planned implementation of cuts in terms and conditions.

Bus Éireann told unions yesterday that its financial situation is worsening, with losses for 2016 now estimated at €9.4m.

The warning comes in a document issued to unions during negotiations at the Workplace Relations Commission aimed at averting an all-out, indefinite strike over the company's planned implementation of cuts in terms and conditions.

Meanwhile, the National Bus and Rail Union has warned that it will "rapidly exit" the WRC talks if management proceeds with its cuts agenda. 

In the document, Bus Éireann says the original projected loss for 2016 was €6.8m, but the current estimate for its operating loss has soared to €9.4m - compared to €5.6m in 2015.

It states that the situation worsened in the fourth quarter of 2016 due to factors including third-party claims, declining revenue, bus hire, overtime and absenteeism.

Losses for January already exceed €1.5m.

It warns that savings of €30m must be achieved to eliminate Expressway losses, and that because of overlaps of functional support, operations in all Bus Éireann activities including public service obligation and school transport activities must be more competitive. 

However, unions remain implacably opposed to the proposed cuts. They fear Bus Éireann is positioning itself to become a low-wage operator in order to compete in tenders for bus routes. 

They have warned that if the company proceeds with the cuts agenda, they will make a rapid exit from the talks, which would revive the fear of nationwide bus paralysis. 

Workers had been due to commence an all-out indefinite strike today had the company proceeded with implementing cuts to pay and conditions.

However last Thursday both sides agreed to enter talks on Friday, today and tomorrow in a bid to resolve the dispute.

In today's warning, General Secretary Dermot O'Leary tells members they have advised the WRC facilitators that if the company persists with the cuts agenda, the NBRU will be making a rapid exit from the planned discussions, bearing in mind that their commitment to engage was on the basis of trying to resolve difficulties at loss-making commercial service Expressway. 

The NBRU notice also reiterates that the union remains in dispute mode, and is fully prepared to engage in an all-out strike to defend what it calls the hard won terms and conditions of bus workers.

Mr O'Leary tells members that the NBRU has made it clear to Acting Chief Executive Ray Hernan that they will not allow him to move Bus Éireann to becoming "a mirror of those private operators that treat their staff abysmally". 

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Bus Éireann seeking to collapse WRC talks - SIPTU

SIPTU Organiser Willie Noone accused Bus Éireann of seeking to collapse the WRC talks, describing the document as provocative.

"SIPTU representatives remain insistent that the issues we have raised must be addressed prior to engaging with the document.

"There are issues at hand that the company obviously does not want to deal with. We will remain steadfast in our aim of having these issues addressed."

Mr O'Leary, meanwhile, described the document as "incendiary".

He accused the company of playing Russian roulette with its own staff and the public transport system by deliberately provoking staff into bringing the entire transport system to a halt. 

He voiced anger that the document had been issued directly to all staff ahead of the WRC facilitated discussions.

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, Mr Noone accused management at Bus Éireann of attempting to introduce the most basic terms and conditions of employment. 

He said unions are willing to engage in discussions with management, but not when the company is ignoring "normal" negotiation practices and being ambiguous.

No plans at present to close any routes - management

The document identifies a number of routes being considered for closure.

They include the X7 Dublin to Clonmel route, the 021 Athlone to Westport route and the 833 Dublin to Derry route. 

Management projects this would save €1.1m. 

Managers say there are no plans at present to close any routes.

However, they note that there are a number of other routes that will be kept open but will require service level changes to ensure they are maintained.

The company says there is significant scope for productivity savings in areas including overtime, scheduling and rostering for all grades, the spare driver structure, absenteeism, premium payments, bonus and expense payments, and flexibility.

The Bus Éireann document says that the company's total overhead base in 2015 was €338m, with 20% of that relating to commercial operations.

They believe there is potential to reduce this overhead base despite upward pressure on wages, fuel, claims, insurance, IT, energy and fleet ownership costs.

Specific areas for review and reform in the 2017 budget include all sales and marketing activity, bus hire, third party claims, and a review of non core products including Eurolines, private hire and park and ride services.

There will also be initiatives to increase road passenger revenue generation.

Bus Éireann expects passenger growth of 3-4% to continue on PSO services for key city and stage carriage routes.

Bus Éireann pledges to compete aggressively "if our cost base allows" for Waterford and Kildare routes which are being opened up to tender by the National Transport Authority.

The company will continue to lobby the Department of Social Protection for an increase in funding for free travel journeys.

It says that funding for any redundancy scheme is not yet agreed - and will be subject to a review of the final plan.

The document outlines significant changes proposed for the Bus Éireann driver grade.

Currently there are 1,378 full time drivers, who worked on average 1.6 hours overtime per week last year.

The average driver was paid for 9.4 hours, but the average revenue-generating driving time was only 5.5 hours per day.

The company says the basic pay of €32,000 per annum is not out of line with the private sector - but that average earnings after premium payments come to €47,000 - with a "significant number earning over €60,000."

It says that in many cases, the higher earning drivers have an easier schedule with less weekend work, and less actual revenue generating driving time.

Newer drivers tend to be on lower earnings even though they work more weekends.

The management document sets an objective of achieving a driving time of a minimum of 90% of total paid time.

It says that if the company were to maximise driver efficiency, they would only need 986 drivers.

They also want efficiencies in the "spare pool" system of 250 stand-by drivers.

They also note that new drivers will be employed on a flexible hours contract. While a minimum number of hours will be guaranteed to reflect the scheduled service, these contracts may include split days.

The title of Inspector will be eliminated and replaced with a new role - though with fewer numbers.

Management, executive and clerical grades will be centralised to maximise economies of scale - and it is anticipated that significant reductions will take place in all categories.

It notes that the average rate of clerical pay at €45,000 is "excessive".

Maintenance work needs to take place as far as possible outside the normal bus schedule to reduce the number of buses required and the need to hire in contract buses.

There are also plans to close some depots, and outsourcing is under consideration.