I thank the Deputy. It is true that the Deputy met unions on many occasions and he had some serious matters to discuss in terms of public pay and the issues that the country had to face in an even more challenging time than now.
Nobody wants to see this strike go ahead. The Minister, Deputy Ross, gave a full and thorough briefing to the Cabinet yesterday on the situation here. Clearly, today's media coverage carries a number of the issues that the NTA has come forward with in terms of its analysis of the services currently provided on a number of the routes that are suggested to be changed, with further facilities and access on one of those routes in the west.
It is true that a solution will not drop out of the sky. The Deputy is absolutely correct, but the Minister, Deputy Ross, has been very strongly in support of a situation where unions and management sit down together at the WRC and work out a solution for the nub of the issue where there is a loss of income to the company on a daily basis. I think an intervention by the Minister directly is not what is required now. There is still an opportunity for unions and management to get together. The Minister has been in touch with the Minister in the Department of Social Protection both in respect of the access and the assessment of the free travel scheme, about which there was a perception that it was going to be taken away, which is not true. Obviously, the NTA itself has spoken out and guaranteed connectivity for areas in rural Ireland that would be affected by any change in the Expressway service.
I appeal to unions and management to use the facility available to them now, with the full support of the Minister and the Government, to work out a solution and an outcome in respect of the issue here. Nobody wants to see this happen. Unemployment is down to 6.6%. Our country is facing a number of challenges both internationally and in respect of Brexit. We do not want to see hundreds of thousands of people discommoded next week. As I said yesterday, 81% of people who travel on the Bus Éireann services do so where the service is professional, competent and carried out by very dedicated workers.
There is an issue, in that the State cannot, as the Deputy knows, directly subsidise the commercial arm of Bus Éireann, and that is an issue that can be dealt with, and will be dealt with, through the industrial machinery of the State, provided that people take up that option. The Government is fully supportive of the public service transport entity. We want to see that continue. This is an issue that needs to be dealt with and that is the place to deal with it. The Minister, Deputy Ross, has the full support of Government in setting out the opportunities for a conclusion to this particular serious dispute.