Public Transport Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2017: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Public Transport Regulation Act 2009.

Our bus network is an essential public service. If we are to have private competition with public operators, it is critical that we have a basic threshold on pay and conditions, that a reliable service is provided and that all operators compete on a level playing field. I am introducing this Bill on behalf of the Labour Party to stop the race to the bottom on terms and conditions in the bus sector. This Bill proposes to amend section 10(3) of the Public Transport Regulation Act 2009, which currently requires that an applicant for a bus licence must demonstrate that it has "the capacity to obtain the necessary financial and other resources", that it is in compliance "with national and international legislation on road transport" and that it possesses "a current tax clearance certificate".

This Bill proposes to add new conditions for the awarding of licences by the National Transport Authority to private operators. I am proposing that such an operator will have to "engage in collective bargaining" with its own workforce, or "become a member of an association, representative of employers in the sector". The second of these provisions would allow a sectoral employment order covering the private bus industry to be introduced. These proposed conditions would ensure there is a more level playing field between private operators and public operators like Bus Éireann. If we agree to enable a sectoral employment order to be introduced, we will set a floor on terms and conditions for staff across the bus sector. These provisions would mean that when a private operator receives a licence to operate a route, it will be bound to observe normal industrial relations practices, thereby preventing a race to the bottom on the terms and conditions of bus drivers.

Workers and employers have the right to associate and the right to refuse to associate. Generally speaking, it is not constitutionally permissible to require an employer to join a representative negotiation body or to engage in collective bargaining with its workers. For well over a century, however, public policy as expressed in legislation has been to ensure that unregulated labour markets do not result in workers receiving less than a living wage, particularly in sectors where there is no organisation and no equality of bargaining power, where good employers are undercut by bad employers and where there is a race to the bottom on terms and conditions of employment. This has been the rationale behind a succession of State interventions, including wage councils, joint labour committees and sectoral employment orders.

As public transport is a licensed and regulated activity, there is a clear public interest in a well-functioning and reliable public transport system, with dependable buses running predictable schedules. We would argue that there are overriding considerations of the common good at stake. People want and are entitled to sustainable, secure and reasonably well-paid jobs. The Bill I am proposing aims to strike the right balance between the needs of business and the right of workers to basic job security and a decent rate of pay. This means rejecting jobs at any price and the spread of casual labour at the lowest level of wages. Workers providing the services on which our society and our economy rely must be guaranteed basic standards of fair treatment in the workplace.

I welcome the talks that are under way in the Bus Éireann dispute at the Workplace Relations Commission. I hope a basis for a resolution of this crippling dispute can be found. This strike has crippled rural Ireland, is crippling the company and is crippling the workers, who have now been without pay for 14 days. There are no winners in this dispute. There is an onus on the company to restore trust in the negotiations and to work to deliver a resolution. We have proposed some common-sense proposals with regard to Bus Éireann. We are not calling for the Minister to step in and negotiate with the unions, but we are saying he has a role to play. We have called for the establishment of a stakeholder forum. The Minister could and should do this with immediate effect. There are serious and complex transport policy issues at the heart of public transport in Ireland.

The Bill I am introducing on behalf of the Labour Party can address at least one of those issues.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.