General Scheme of Road Traffic Bill 2015: Discussion (Resumed)

Deputy Noel Harrington took the Chair.

We will now embark on pre-legislative scrutiny on the general scheme of the road traffic Bill 2015. The purpose of this morning's meeting is to engage with representatives of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann as part of this committee's pre-legislative scrutiny of the heads of the road traffic Bill 2015. On behalf of the committee I welcome Mr. Paddy Doherty, CEO and Mr. Phil Donohue, head of human resources and development with Dublin Bus. We also welcome Mr. Martin Nolan, CEO and Mr. Joe Kenny, chief human resources manager with Bus Éireann, who will make a joint presentation. Could I remind members that Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann representatives are here to discuss the heads of the road traffic Bill, not industrial relations issues at the companies which are at a sensitive stage at the moment?

I wish to draw your attention to the fact that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if you are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and you continue to so do, you are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of your evidence. You are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and you are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, you should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I also wish to advise you that any submission or opening statements you have made to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting. Members are reminded of the long standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name, or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I now call Mr. Joe Kenny to make his opening statement.

Mr. Joe Kenny

Chairman and members of the committee we welcome this opportunity to address the committee on the general scheme of the road traffic Bill 2015 particularly in relation to employers' responsibility to test for intoxicants.

Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus are very large organisations. We operate a transport network upon which our customers make many millions of journeys every year. We interface with members of the general public on buses and in a whole range of places. The road passenger transport industry is of significant importance to the people and the economy of Ireland. It provides an essential service to the community at local and regional levels. Its continued success depends on the people who operate the service and can only be achieved through their efficiency and teamwork. Consequently, a high standard of commitment is expected from everyone involved, irrespective of what his or her particular job may be.

The safety and comfort of our customers is of vital importance to Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus and it must be the prime consideration of all drivers. By boarding our vehicles, customers indicate they have confidence in the drivers' skills and competence to get them to their destinations, safely and in comfort. It is the responsibility of the driver to ensure, by every means at his or her disposal, that this is achieved satisfactorily, ensuring a consistent and high quality service. In accordance with section 8 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005, Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus have a legal duty to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work of all its employees. Under section 13 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 all Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus employees have a legal duty to ensure that they take reasonable care to protect their own safety and welfare and that of any other person who may be affected by their acts or omission’s while at work. This duty, under section 13(1)(b) extends to ensuring that they are not under the influence of an intoxicant while at work, be it alcohol or drugs or a combination of both, to the extent that they are likely to endanger their own safety, health or welfare at work or that of any other person within the workplace.

Section 13 of The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, provides that "An employee shall, while at work if reasonably required by his or her employer, submit to any appropriate, reasonable and proportionate tests for intoxicants by, or under the supervision of, a registered medical practitioner who is a competent person, as may be prescribed". I now hand over to my colleague Mr. Phil Donohue from Dublin Bus.

Mr. Phil Donohue

Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus had envisaged the introduction of intoxicant testing as provided for in section 13(1) of the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act 2005. We have had discussions with workplace representatives to reach agreement on the introduction of random testing for drugs and alcohol in the workplace. This was subject to the publication of a code of practice on foot of the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act 2005, through the enactment of a statutory instrument. Unfortunately, agreement could not be reached regarding random testing for alcohol and drugs, as no regulation was in place to cover such testing and the Health and Safety Authority issued guidelines saying that random testing was not provided for under the 2005 Act. This continues to be a barrier to reaching agreement with employees for random testing for alcohol and drugs.

Section 88 of the Railway Safety Act 2005 requires rail companies to draw up a code of conduct for safety critical workers in relation to intoxicants and sampling procedures in that regard. As a result of this legislation both Irish Rail and Luas services have implemented a system of random intoxicant testing. The Railway Safety Act not only places an obligation on the employer but also on the employee. Despite the lack of regulation, and following discussions with employee representatives, Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus effected a detailed policy in relation to drugs and alcohol. The policy describes how the two organisations manage the impact of drugs and alcohol within the workplace and identifies appropriate rules, both legislative and self-imposed. We clearly explain the processes for invoking those rules, the subsequent actions and identify who must carry them out. We also make clear the obligations of all employees in this regard. The proposed legislation will provide a mechanism where we can introduce random drug and alcohol testing for all employees.

In conclusion, we urge the committee to give serious consideration to the legislative support required to introduce a testing regime that covers all road transport providers and sets an industry best practice standard for all. This would be in keeping with other European member states and is welcomed by both Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus. It would underpin the safety culture in our organisations, act as a preventative measure and as a deterrent, and would ultimately lead to an improvement in overall road safety in Ireland. We thank the Chairman and members of the committee.

I thank both the witnesses for their opening statements and I call Deputy Dooley.

Thank you Chairman. I welcome the deliberations of the gentlemen and thank them for their presence. Mr. Donohue stated: "Unfortunately, agreement could not be reached regarding random testing for alcohol and drugs, as no regulation was in place to cover such testing and the Health and Safety Authority issued guidelines saying that random testing was not provided for under the 2005 Act". Am I to understand from the witness that he is happy this proposed legislation would address the issue of reaching agreement with worker representatives? Is he confident the legislation is robust enough to meet the difficulties that arose in those negotiations?

Mr. Phil Donohue

I certainly welcome the legislation but as is stated in the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act, while there is an obligation on the employer there was also an obligation on the employee. This area needs to be looked at - there needs to be an obligation on both sides. Legislation which just legislates for the employer to put testing in place, without an obligation on the employee to co-operate with that regime-----

Would Mr. Donohue suggest we also look at amending the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act? Is there a provision he might suggest to us?

Mr. Phil Donohue

Probably not if we stick with the road traffic Bill, and build a mechanism into it so there is an obligation on both sides, namely, employers and employees.

Is Mr. Donohoe saying we should expand the element which would put greater emphasis on the employees' responsibilities?

Mr. Phil Donohue

Yes.

Mr. Joe Kenny

I will add to that. One of the big differences between the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act and the proposed legislation is that the proposed legislation applies to critical safety tasks. One of the difficulties with the original 2005 legislation is that it covered all employees whereas this proposed legislation is more focused on HGV and PSV drivers, and for that reason it is more amenable to people to accept it.

It also gets over another hurdle, which is that it would be a level playing field for everybody, which is one of the difficulties we experienced, both from a corporate point of view, because we would like everyone to be subject to the same rules and regulations, and also from the employees' point of view, because they would like to see that they are not being singled out in any particular employment. So, for that reason, we welcome it as a single piece of legislation rather than as an addendum to the 2005 Act.

To clarify the situation, I take the point that the Acting Chairman made at the outset of the meeting that the gentlemen concerned are here to deal with this pre-legislation matter, but I think in light of the fact that Mr. Nolan, who is chief executive of Bus Éireann, is here, it would be remiss of us not to take the opportunity to address that. I could accept the Acting Chairman's suggestion if there was an attempt to hijack Mr. Kenny or Mr. Donohue, which I would not do, but as Mr. Nolan is here, I think it is appropriate that we at least enter into discussion, if he is okay with that. I assume, as chief executive, he has full knowledge of what is happening on the IR side and I think it is appropriate for us to put a number of questions, perhaps at the end of the discussion of this particular legislation. I make that proposal and seek the agreement of the committee on it.

It did not appear as an item on the agenda. There may be many members of this committee who are not aware of Deputy Dooley's proposal and there may be many members of the Oireachtas who are interested in having the same discussion but are not aware of the Deputy's proposal.

I accept the Acting Chairman's point but that is up to everybody concerned.

It does not appear on the agenda.

I accept that but I put to the Acting Chairman that the spokespersons for the Opposition parties are here and I think it is the business of the committee. If people choose not to be at the committee, that is their loss. Deputy Ellis and I are here. If Mr. Nolan is prepared to take a couple of questions on it, I think it would be a useful encounter; if he is not, clearly we will not pursue it.

This is a pre-legislative scrutiny meeting. It is quite defined and specific.

Let us have that and then when it is over maybe we will enter into a discussion with Mr. Nolan.

That was never an item on the agenda and it has not been flagged as one. Other Members of the Oireachtas and other members of this committee may have been interested but they have not been notified.

We are in the national Parliament. There is a strike about to take place and tens of thousands of people will be discommoded as a result of what is happening. I think there are people who are looking in today who will find it farcical that the parliamentarians cannot have a conversation about it when the forum is in existence and the personnel are here. I think it would make a laughing stock of the notion that somehow we have reformed the way we do our business in the national Parliament. I will make a proposal that we enter into a discussion afterwards, in a respectful way, with Mr. Nolan, if he is prepared to take some questions. He has been very forthcoming in the past when he has come before us and I would be surprised if he was not prepared to avail us.

I would also like to take this opportunity to find out what the situation is, if at all possible, because this is an important issue. To come here and meet representatives of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann and not even to get a briefing on what is happening with the workers and what is going on is wrong. I would like to know whether there is a possibility of averting this or a possibility of further negotiation? I make the same request that, if at all possible, at the end of this meeting, we do that. I am subject to what the representatives say.

There are one or two problems. First, as I have said, it is not an agenda item, so other members who may have been interested have not been notified. The second point is would we then have to bring the unions in? Let us be clear about this now. This is what I am concerned about. This is not a judgment committee, court, labour court, labour relations commission, or anything else. It is a public forum. I am concerned about having questions answered by somebody on one side of the dispute and the committee being accused of favouring one side over the other. That is a concern I have.

I think the Acting Chairman will recognise that we operate on the basis of good faith here and we accept the privilege that has been bestowed upon us by the public. I think it would be an outrageous situation if the chief executive of Bus Éireann, the representative of the company, is with us today, when we are on the verge of a strike during which tens of thousands of people will be discommoded, and we do not enter into a dialogue. I do not expect Mr. Nolan to say something that he had not intended to. I expect him to be briefed, as he would be as chief executive, and I think it would assist in the process so that we do not end up with so many people being discommoded. I ask the Acting Chairman to consider what he has said. I will make it a formal proposal. I prefer not to have to go down that route and put it to a vote but if the Acting Chairman forces me, I will. If he accepts the proposal that I am making, I think we can do it in a respectful way that seeks to have a discussion or dialogue around an important issue.

My concern, which I hope the members of the committee will accept, is that if we take the management side in a dispute we would be open to having to take the-----

For clarity, it is a discussion and a dialogue. It is not about the committee taking a position. It is not about filing a report at the end of it. It is not about making a judgment or issuing some kind of an opinion. It is a discussion where members of a diverse group of people from different parties have a conversation with the chief executive of Bus Éireann about an impending strike. It seems to me to be a fairly straightforward proposal.

To assist Deputy Dooley, the CEO of the company could give us a briefing as to what the position is. Rather than getting into a question-and-answer type situation, the CEO might inform the committee what the situation is and if we need to have a subsequent meeting with the company and the relevant stakeholders we could do that. I accept where the Acting Chairman is coming from. We would not like to be seen to have any degree of bias, but I also accept what Deputy Dooley is saying, because this is unprecedented, as the Minister has said. We have gone from a situation where there was an afternoon strike threatened to a situation where there are days of strikes threatened.

Maybe rather than getting into a question-and-answer type situation, the CEO might be able to provide us with an update as to what is happening, and afterwards, if there is a requirement for a subsequent meeting, the committee can make the relevant arrangements. I think it might be a bit unfair to proceed today in the absence of the other stakeholders. I understand where the Acting Chairman is coming from but I think it would be no harm to get an update rather than having adversarial questions and answers. Perhaps if Deputy Dooley would accept a statement from the CEO on the situation, we could leave it at that until a subsequent meeting.

I thank Deputy O'Donovan for his desire to be helpful but I think Mr. Nolan should be in a position to take a question or two from each of us in a respectful way. It is not as if other people do not get access to the airwaves. It is not as if we live in Stalinist Russia and other representatives, be they union representatives or whatever, do not have access to the public airwaves. We have an opportunity to have a discussion and dialogue and to put a number of questions to Mr. Nolan about this issue. I do not think that, in any way, limits the extent to which others have a voice. We have had the unions here to discuss issues before and we would welcome them again. I do not think that anything that I will say will be at variance with their position on this particular issue. At the end of the day, I am here to try to contribute in so far as I can to this situation which will impact on tens of thousands of people over the coming days and if any bit of wisdom that I have available to me can help to bring a resolution then so be it. Hopefully others are of a similar mind.

I feel that we will need to ask a number of questions. I will not delve into the question of the unions or anything like that. There are issues that the public need to know. There are issues over contingency plans and getting the message out there. I do not know what the intentions of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann are in terms of giving information out to people on the ground about what will happen during the strike. I think it is important that we hear what Dublin Bus see as the alternative for their customers. That is very important.

Does Mr. Nolan have an opinion or wish to make a statement?

Mr. Martin Nolan

If it starts straying fully into the industrial relations area I will be in trouble but I think I can say some limited things but I am afraid I will have to call a halt.

So long as Mr. Nolan takes a couple of questions. I will respect if he tells the committee, as Mr. Walsh did in relation to the Aer Lingus issue, that there are areas beyond which he cannot go.

If that is agreed we will continue. Does Mr. Nolan remember what Deputy Dooley's questions were on pre-legislative scrutiny?

I think I got a response on that matter. It was covered in the response on the pre-legislative situation.

Deputy John O'Mahony took the Chair.

We are discussing the 2015 road traffic Bill. When reading the report I noticed that Irish Rail employees are subject to random testing under railway legislation, but the same powers or conditions do not apply under road traffic legislation. It is important not only for Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus but for all road transport users, haulage companies and bus companies that these safety measures apply across the board.

I can understand why some people might be reticent. Representatives of the Automobile Association were before the committee last week. From memory, Conor Faughnan expressed some reservations on behalf of motorists who might be subjected to random tests. There is an understandable fear among people who might be on medication of some kind to the effect that if they are stopped and tested, they might fail the test. This probably needs to be clarified in the Bill. All road haulage companies and bus operators and their employees should be subject to the safety procedures in place in the interests of the safety of the public, passengers and the employees themselves.

Mr. Donohue, do you wish to respond?

Mr. Phil Donohue

I support Deputy Kenny's support for the Bill. Applying the provisions across the public transport sector and the road freight sector and making it applicable to all would certainly make it far easier to get a group of people in a particular workplace to accept the policy. The absence of the legislation was a stumbling block within Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann when we were trying to negotiate for random testing in the workplace. If we can get in place legislation that will overcome that, it will be far easier to apply these testing procedures.

I thank the bus companies for the presentations. Mr. Donohue suggested it was a good thing that we have legislation in place but I believe there is a concern. A number of groups have appeared before the committee expressing a concern about the major emphasis being put on employers in terms of their responsibilities. Let us consider the case of a family businesses that runs haulage. It may have one, two or three people involved. That could be a tricky situation.

I assume the practice in the past was that if someone was identified as being intoxicated or was falling or seemed to be behaving in a certain way, then the person would be requested to have a test. Have there been many incidents whereby people have been forced or asked to be tested as a result of an observation from a manager or someone else? There is an issue of citizens' rights as well. If we put in place legislation and we are dealing with people, we need to be mindful that we cannot impose things constantly and force employers to do this. Is the proposed legislation as close as one could get to international best practice? I am keen to hear the position of the bus companies in that regard.

I believe a code of practice is important, but I am concerned in case every time a person came in he was asked to do a test without any reason. Something should have to trigger the call for that test in the first place. I have a problem in the way this is being proposed at the moment. It looks to me as though a major emphasis is being put on employers. We have seen many cases where it is tricky to make a judgment. If a person is taking drugs one may not see it as much as if someone had taken a great deal of alcohol and is falling about the place. In the case of someone who has taken drugs, one may not really know. Are we considering putting in place a practice whereby once a month or once every six months a random test is carried out on employees? I am keen to get a feel for the way the bus companies see this going.

Mr. Joe Kenny

There are a number of points that we can address. First, our policy is already well defined in terms of how we test for drugs and alcohol. We do not actually carry out random testing at the moment because of the absence of legislation, but our policy is in place to allow for it. International best practice suggests that somewhere between 5% and 10% of the workforce should be tested annually on a random basis. That is regarded as best practice internationally.

In the case of small businesses only a small number of people would be tested. The company could have a choice on whether the person tested is taken out of the testing, but normally the person is kept in. One could have a situation whereby someone is tested more than once on a purely random basis, for example. Anyway, the service provider we have uses what is called a randomiser. Our company has no input into who is selected for that. The process is clear to the staff as well as any other interested parties. It is completely transparent. We would not get a situation whereby someone would be victimised, for example.

There is another way that people are called for testing and that is using for-cause testing. This is what Deputy Ellis was referring to. This is where someone displays behaviour consistent with being under the influence of a substance and a manager or supervisor finds that someone is displaying certain behaviours. Under those circumstances we can have a for-cause test.

In my experience we have had no real cause to suspect that anyone is turning up for work under the influence of anything. However, as Deputy Ellis rightly pointed out, the movement is now away from alcohol it seems and more towards drugs, which are more difficult to detect. I do not necessarily mean so-called illegal drugs, they could be dispensed drugs that have an effect on people's capability to drive. Some of these are even over-the-counter products that indicate they may cause drowsiness and that users should not drive.

This brings me to the other point Deputy Ellis made, that is, the responsibility being put on employers to carry out this. There is a responsibility on employees to look after their health and welfare and that of those around them as well. This is encapsulated in the 2005 Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act. I envisage the two Acts working in tandem to show that there is shared responsibility.

My last point is that education is very important. Before anyone implements a policy within this company or any company there should be a full education programme. Since the introduction last year we have produced good quality education pamphlets, like the one before the committee now, which tell people all about the potential effects and what they should be looking out for in order that they do not accidentally contravene any of the policies we have on drugs and alcohol. For example, we tell people the position if they are going out for a night before they are expected in work the next day. They need to be conscious of the fact that alcohol can stay in the body for a number of hours and that each unit of alcohol takes at least two hours to get out of the body. That sort of education helps. In this way the responsibilities are therefore shared between employee and employer.

The submissions of the companies and their major concern relate to testing for intoxicants. Other parts of the pre-legislative scrutiny take in many headings, for example, roadworks and speed limits.

How would this impact on the business? Do the companies have any issues apart from intoxicants to which they wish to refer, such as drivers and mobile telephone use?

Mr. Joe Kenny

Having reviewed the proposed legislation, we would be supportive of all aspects of it, as it is supportive of the company and increases safety standards in the workplace for our drivers and the general public. We are supportive of all aspects of the Bill.

Is there a designated person randomly testing bus drivers for drugs?

Mr. Joe Kenny

We have a service provider available to do that. However, they are not carrying out any tests currently because we do not have an agreement to do that.

It is not being done then.

Mr. Joe Kenny

We have the provisions to do it and are ready to move with it.

What would it cost per year if a service provider carried out tests on say 10% of Bus Éireann drivers?

Mr. Joe Kenny

I do not have the final figure with me. The tests are usually between €10 and €15 each.

My understanding is that a medical practitioner must be present.

Mr. Joe Kenny

Yes, a medical practitioner can be somebody who is medically qualified to carry out a test. That does not mean it has to be a doctor or a nurse. It just has to be somebody who is medically qualified to do it.

Would someone drive to Galway to do such a test for €10 to €15?

Mr. Joe Kenny

Yes. There are several service providers with a number of sites in the major cities.

Do they charge mileage on top of this?

Mr. Joe Kenny

The €10 to €15 is the actual cost of the test.

What is the total cost?

Mr. Joe Kenny

I do not have the total cost for the test.

Would it be €50 or €100? Can Mr. Kenny give me a rough figure?

Mr. Joe Kenny

I do not have that actual figure with me. I know the cost of the actual test. We can come back to the Deputy with the overall cost.

I understand Bus Éireann is a large company and trying to do its best in ensuring health and safety standards. Do all its drivers have CPCs, driver certificate of professional competence?

Mr. Joe Kenny

Yes.

Do they do a pre-service test every morning?

Mr. Joe Kenny

Yes.

How many people does Bus Éireann employ? How many buses does it operate?

Mr. Joe Kenny

Bus Éireann has just over 1,000 drivers and 400 part-time school bus drivers.

Has the company ever had a problem with drink-driving?

Mr. Joe Kenny

We have not had what one would call a problem. We have had incidents but they have been minor in number. I actually cannot recall the last time we had an incident.

I am coming to points of scale of operation. It will cost a single bus operator more money than it will cost Bus Éireann which has a larger number of employees to undertake these tests.

In Norway, for example, in new trucks and buses, the driver must perform a breathalyser test when they get into it. If they fail it, it will not start. I am trying to get the Department to look into this. This mechanism will probably not cost an arm and a leg. Introducing this on a phased basis for Irish vehicles may be a resolution to this issue. Does Bus Éireann agree with a system such as that?

Mr. Joe Kenny

It is a system that works for alcohol but has no impact on those driving under the influence of drugs. The evidence is pointing to the fact there is a larger problem with drugs. The drink-driving culture is well and truly dead in this country. These machines are effective in preventing people from driving under the influence of alcohol and are relatively cost effective to install. It is only half of what is required, however.

My understanding is that there are ongoing developments for a similar mechanism for drugs.

Mr. Joe Kenny

The evidence we have is that it is not available.

This actually moves way beyond for what random testing is required. It has its merits and the legislation provides for that testing too. I do not believe it is an either-or situation.

My argument back to Mr. Kenny is that we as taxpayers subsidise a certain amount of Bus Éireann’s budget, whereas a private operator has to subsidise himself and keep his fleet on the road.

I heard the discussion earlier about the proposed industrial action. Is there anything the delegations want to add to it?

Mr. Martin Nolan

If we are facing into a strike action this weekend, it is only proper I say something about it.

We are making every effort to avert this strike action and everybody gets around the table to discuss the issues left. We have 850,000 customer journeys over these strike days and Dublin Bus has more than that. We have made huge headway over the past number of years with 4 million additional passenger journeys last year. We are getting the companies back on the financial straight and narrow.

This weekend is one of our busiest of the year. Following detailed discussions with the Minister, the Department and the National Transport Authority, we gave a renewed commitment yesterday that no staff will have to transfer out of our company into another as part of the 10% tendering and that terms and conditions will be protected. There will be details around that which we need to get back to the Labour Relations Commission to discuss. The strike action will have dire financial consequences for our company and for Dublin Bus.

Once again, we need to get back around the table to discuss matters. I know there is much work in getting that to happen. If we go out on strike, public sympathy will disappear fairly quickly and we live on our reputation.

I thank Mr. Nolan for taking the question. I do not want to stray into the direct industrial relations issue as that is a matter for the company and the unions. However, there are a couple of fundamental points involved.

This situation has arisen as a result of the Government’s ideology where a decision was taken in the belief that there would be greater value for money achieved if there were competitiveness to make Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus do their business more efficiently. Does Mr. Nolan accept this has now failed when the Minister, as of yesterday, gave assurances to the workers that in the event of 10% of the business being transferred to private operators, Bus Éireann will still have to carry the drivers associated with that? Does that not undermine the economics of the argument and that ultimately this is ideology over economics?

Does it further not put the company and Dublin Bus under considerable financial strain as they move towards 2017 at a point when a further decision will be taken by the Government as to whether it will privatise further routes? If in 2017 the Government decides to privatise 40% to 50% of the company, the expectation will be that Bus Éireann will have to carry all of the staff affected.

What has arisen makes a farce of the decision to enter into this privatised regime.

Does Mr. Nolan not think it would be better for the Government to instruct the NTA to go back to the direct award model set out and provided for in the 2008 Act? Does he further agree that the 2008 Act made it very clear that only new routes would be handled under the competitive tendering process? That would have allowed for compliance with the 2007 directive from the European Union in terms of competitiveness.

I thank Mr. Nolan for his statement. It is in all our interests to find out as best we can what is going on between Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus, the NTA and the unions, although I am not going to delve into certain issues. While I see Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann as belonging to the State, what we have is the Minister blaming the NTA and saying it is offloading routes and putting them out to tender. It is a drive towards privatisation and I sympathise with the workers who see it coming down the road. This is only the beginning in the offloading of routes.

Had they been looking at new routes and following some of the directives from the European Union that might have been one thing, but we are talking about existing routes. In the case of Bus Éireann, we are talking about 100% of routes in Waterford. I do not know how Bus Éireann has interacted with the NTA on this issue. Has it been totally opposed to this plan or is it going along with it because it is being forced to do so by the NTA and the ideology of the Government? We have been seeing huge increases in the numbers of passengers and income. Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann are becoming more economical in managing funding. The PSO levy has stabilised - at the least the Government has stopped cutting it - and we are still managing to deliver a good service.

In London, in contrast to what the NTA is proposing, routes are being taken back and subsidised more. I would like to get a feel of the interaction between the NTA and Bus Éireann in this regard. I would also like to find out what Bus Éireann is going to state to commuters about how they should handle this issue. What are their alternatives if the strike goes ahead? I hope we will negotiate up to the last minute. My worry is that although the parties involved are in negotiations on existing workers, they may not negotiate on conditions for future workers. We are talking about protecting workers, but protecting workers into the future is also very important. The parties involved should not just seek to do a deal for a certain number of workers.

Two options were being proposed in terms of workers keeping their jobs, but I do not know how we can guarantee even these two options when we are dealing with private companies. If they win the contracts, how can we say workers can transfer to them and retain the same rights and rates? Furthermore, down the road when there is a new worker, the position will have changed. That is wrong and it should not happen in the first place.

Mr. Martin Nolan

The key point about the company being in an efficient state is very well made. That is something we intend to do and we have a number of strings to that bow. One is that we are tendering for the work that is being put out to tender. There is also growth in public transport which we can all see, as well as the easing of congestion. Even the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, talked yesterday about additionality in public transport. The third string to our bow is the timescale envisaged for these changes. There will be a transitional period, which will give us a chance to deal with residual issues. What we said yesterday about the commitments we could give to our staff, who have done a great job in recent years, was significant and based on detailed discussions on funding. We need to get back into the talks on that issue. We implement Government policy and are here to give our views on the road traffic Bill. Once it is enacted, we will implement it. That is our job. There have been a lot of meetings and we need to get back to having them.

On the PR side, we have ramped up our media presence. We are on radio and our website includes all of the necessary information. We advise people to keep an ear to the radio and watch our website and that of Dublin Bus. We will be fighting until the last minute to keep people working on the inside rather than on the outside.

Mr. Nolan has clarified the matter. It is fundamentally an issue for the Government in terms of the ideology it is pursuing in its agenda to privatise initially 10% of the route network. Is it not the case that it was open to it to continue the direct award system?

Mr. Martin Nolan

The companies can influence this by doing a very good job and we have been doing so. We are as efficient as any company in Europe and need to keep doing this.

This may be a question I cannot ask, but Bus Éireann must be dismayed that, despite recognising the reports which showed that the company was doing a very efficient job, the Government decided to hive off 10% of the routes and put them out to tender. It will be up to Bus Éireann to try to win them back.

Mr. Martin Nolan

That is not for us to say. We must get on with the job.

I will take that as a yes.

The Deputy has kept well clear of industrial relations issues and moved into the political arena.

I urge the delegates to negotiate right up to the last minute to try to solve this problem. There are no winners in strikes. As regards holding on to the extra staff, is Bus Éireann projecting an age profile that would see enough people retiring to facilitate this?

Has Bus Éireann taken a look at public transport services around the country? There are counties in which there is no public transport system. There might be a system in Dublin and the cities, but in ordinary rural parts of Ireland the company is cutting, not increasing, services. Is it going to try to be more expansive and work with communities to provide a better service? If we are talking about congestion or whatever else, it should apply to all parts of Ireland. We should not concentrate on just four or five parts of the country and to hell with the rest.

Mr. Martin Nolan

The point has been very well made. It has to apply to all parts of Ireland; we need public transport services all over the place and are working with the National Transport Authority and the Department to this end.

On the age profile of the staff Bus Éireann is holding, is the company looking at the numbers who will retire? Is that how it is going to facilitate this change?

Mr. Martin Nolan

We hope there will not be too much of that. There is additionality in public transport services around the country. We have an infrastructure that caters for services to a certain level. If we were to start to reduce it, the level of services would be undermined. We need to keep up the level of services, which is the key aim.

If Bus Éireann loses the business in Waterford, it will not expect drivers in Waterford to relocate to Dublin. It seems to be a rushed decision by the Minister to try to quell the strike. It has not been properly though out, no more than the privatisation agenda has been properly thought out. The long-term implications for Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus are that they will end up with a higher cost base which will be used against them as they face into the next round of competitive tendering.

The legislation provided for the direct award in line with the appropriate activity the NTA has put in place for Bus Éireann, with service level agreements, value for money audits and all of that, but, unfortunately, this is just this Government driving a privatisation agenda and the Labour Party has gotten off scot-free.

I thank the witnesses for appearing before the committee to discuss matters which were on and off the agenda. It has been very useful to us and, I assume, it has been useful to them. In regard to the upcoming industrial relations issues, it is heartening to hear that all stakeholders are focused on trying to get a resolution to the matter and the committee wishes the witnesses well on that. If there is no other business, we will adjourn until Wednesday, 6 May when the Garda Síochána and the Irish Road Haulage Association will appear before the committee in regard to the road traffic Bill. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The joint committee adjourned at 12.30 p.m. until noon on Wednesday, 6 May 2015.