For more than two weeks now, elderly people in Galway have had no public transport, parents in the city – especially single parents – have struggled to get their kids to school, and ordinary working people like me who don’t drive have been spending hundreds of euro we don’t have to get to work and back.
Galway’s traffic, famously bad at the best of times, has worsened considerably.
Well, you’d have to be hiding under a rock not to know that Bus Eireann have been on an all-out strike for more than a fortnight.
I support the right to strike. Collective bargaining is a powerful tool for the workforce. When employees are being taken advantage of and treated unjustly, I actively support their right to withdraw their labour as a demonstration of the importance of the jobs they do.
Abusing the right to strike, on the other hand, is simply a case of holding the Irish people to ransom. So the question is, is the Bus Eireann strike just?
We know that the organisation made a loss last year, and we know that it’s making a bigger loss this year. We know that their wage bill is the single biggest factor in this loss, and we know that despite this, Bus Eireann is not making any redundancies or even suggesting a cut to basic wages. The organisation seems to be taking the actions it needs to in order to stay alive.
Bus Eireann proposed restructuring the companies overtime to save 12 million euro or 9% off their wage bill. Bus Eireann drivers rejected this, would agree to only 0.5 million euro in savings and declared an all out strike. Already in financial difficulty, the drivers have created a further multi-million euro black hole for the organisation through the strike as lame-duck Minister for Transport Shane Ross has steadfastly refused to get involved.
In any organisation, when losses are being felt, cuts have to be made. It’s a matter of logic. Refusing to talk about cuts to overtime is unreasonable. If the drivers were facing cuts to their basic pay, the public might feel more sympathy toward them, but their basic pay will be left untouched. Naturally, as a semi-state body, Bus Eireann drivers are among the most well-paid driving jobs in Ireland.
For the taxi drivers and other bus drivers in Galway who have been working overtime to help people get around, the salaries and entitlements Bus Eireann drivers have can only be dreamed of. This isn’t about preventing a race to the bottom – it’s about a sense of entitlement that pervades the public sector, a refusal to engage meaningfully in talks, a selfish disregard for the people they serve.
Asking the Irish people to bail the organisation out seems deeply unfair. I already pay twice over for every Bus Eireann trip I take – once by paying the fare and a second time through my taxes, which subsidise these driver’s salaries. I’m okay with that – but if the organisation needs to restructure their overtime to make the company feasible, maybe you just need to deal with that (or spend a week or two working in the private sector and decide which you prefer)
This strike has cost me about €400 so far, just in essential trips to work and to visit family in hospital. I’m deeply grateful that I can take a private service to visit my parents in Dunmore, and to get to Dublin, but I’m conscious that not everyone is so lucky.
The worst thing about it is that this strike isn’t sticking it to the man – it’s trampling on the most vulnerable in society. Pensioners are being deprived of their independence, Leaving Cert and Junior Cert students are facing disruption through their oral exams when they have more than enough to be stressed about, parents scrambling to put arrangements in place for their kids, and genuinely low-paid workers walking miles every day because they have no alternative. Tourists who bought tickets in advance are getting screwed over.
Put down the pickets and get back to work lads. Or stay out there, wait for Bus Eireann to go bankrupt, and throw in a CV to GoBus – you’ll have to up your customer service standards to get in with them though, they’re a really decent bunch of lads.
Katie Harrington is a 28-year-old travel and lifestyle blogger from Galway, Ireland.
“I’m passionate about seeing the world and meeting people from different countries. I love noticing the similarities and differences between people around the world. In a divided world, I genuinely believe that experiencing other cultures first hand is one of the best ways to combat prejudice.
“In between travel, I write about Irish events, restaurants, and news, as well as opinion pieces on topical issues.”
Follow my adventures
If you like my posts about dating, travel, feminism and life in Ireland, get them straight into your inbox.