THE travel misery which has left thousands of Cork commuters discommoded and city centre businesses reporting decreased footfall may soon be at an end.
Unions involved in talks to end the 18-day Bus Éireann strike are hopeful of finding a resolution in the next 24 hours, which would see Cork’s 170 buses and 330 bus drivers back on the road.
Both National Bus and Railworkers’ Union (NBRU) and SIPTU representatives have intimated that they are committed to finding an agreement with Bus Éireann. However, both unions have made it clear that pickets will remain in place until such time as that happens.
Discussions continued through the weekend and adjourned late last night with both sides emerging hopeful of bringing the strike to an end.
Talks had begun last Wednesday at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and focused on driver earnings but had been slow moving due to a disagreement on cost cutting and efficiency measures which drivers believe would cut their pay by 30%.
SIPTU sector organiser Willie Noone said that all sides believed that a deal must be done in the next 24 hours or accept that reaching an agreement was not possible. NBRU general secretary Dermot O’Leary said that talks had not progressed until Sunday as Bus Éireann management were reluctant to change the company’s culture.
“WRC talks adjourned parties to reflect on a number of issues overnight. All sides committed to reaching conclusion over next 24 Hours,” Mr O’Leary tweeted late last night.
A draft document of an agreement was reported to include 120 voluntary redundancies in the next year.
The end of the strike would bring relief to thousands of commuters on Leeside as many regular bus users in Cork had resorted to car pooling or taking taxis. Several people affected by the strike surveyed by the Evening Echo last week expressed their support for the workers and their anger at the failure of Transport Minister Shane Ross to intervene.
Cork business owners warned at the weekend that continuing the strike would leave many city retail outlets facing closure and others laying off staff. Many shops were recording dips of between 25% and 50% in footfall and Idaho Café owner Richard Jacobs published an open letter to the Government on Friday which said that Cork city was being “left to die”
Cork Business Association CEO Lawrence Owens said the strike was causing huge commercial damage to the city.
The expected agreement will also allay fears of the possibility of Bus Éireann employed school bus drivers going on strike.
School bus drivers had not been party to the ongoing dispute but were due to be balloted on strike action by SIPTU on April 21. Talks were set to resume at 10am this morning.