Issue 4-2022 small

5 November 1998 Edition

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Workers in struggle

CIE workers the key to transport strategy

Subsidies for public transport in the 26 Counties are among the lowest in Europe.
``We the workers are sick, sore and tired of subventing public transport out of our pockets''. This was the message from National Bus and Railworker Union general secretary Peter Bunting to his union's annual delegate conference last week.

The NBRU delegates voted unanimously to take any steps necessary including industrial action to prevent the Dublin Government from selling off CIE properties to finance investment in public transport.

It had been reported that Public Enterprise minister Mary O'Rourke planned to sell off CIE property in the new year. However she gave a commitment at the NBRU conference to ``invite the unions for talks'' on how to realise the asset value of CIE property. The NBRU is opposed to a ``quick buck sale''.

Speaking to An Phoblacht Peter Bunting said ``successive governments had underfunded public transport''. Now huge investment was needed ``to offset years of neglect''.

Bunting cited the example of funding in Dublin Bus. Over the last eleven years four productivity deals have been agreed with workers at the company. In 1987 the company received a subvention of £16.4 million. The subvention fell every year since to a low of £3.65 million in 1996. In previous years the cost savings achieved at the company were siphoned into exchequer finances.

Subsidies for public transport in the 26 Counties are among the lowest in Europe. In Dublin 94% of the costs of running the service are recovered in fare revenue leaving a subsidy of only 6%. Even in London the government still subsidises private sector transport companies to the tune of 15% of costs. In Athens up to 50% of the transport costs are subsidised.

Privatisation is also an issue in the 26 Counties. Peter Bunting secured a written commitment from Bertie Ahern in advance of last year's Leinster House election that he was opposed to privatising CIE. It is unclear whether this commitment is reflected in not only the two coalition partners but also among Dublin Government cabinet members.

Bunting pointed out the consequences of privatisation in Britain. For example last April the Office of Fair Trading found that ten bus companies in North-West England had struck secret deals to push up fares.

In London a performance summary from London Transport found that bus companies in the city customer satisfaction for the first three quarters of 1997-'98 fell short of ``every single Department of Transport target, with one exception - conditions of bus stops/shelters''.

Bunting also maintains that the financial costs of gridlock in Dublin is in excess of £1 billion annually through accidents, pollution and lost working hours.

The solution lies with the government, according to the NBRU. They propose: the immediate introduction of dedicated bus ways by local authorities (not one full Quality Bus Corridor has been implemented in Dublin); a tax charge on private carparking spaces; park and ride facilities at various locations in the suburbs of all cities; tax-free incentives for companies who supply their employees with either rail or bus commuter tickets.

Two things are clear from the NBRU conference and the debate over CIE's future. One, this the government must set the agenda on developing transport not the private sector. Two the 12,000 CIE workers have a vital role to play and must be included.

Will McCreevy end ward closures?

What is the point of the state building hospitals and medical wards if they are only going to be closed while waiting lists increase?
The weeks are counting down to Charlie McCreevy's budget and already the good news leaks are flowing from the department of Finance. This week's good news vibe was that McCreevy has over £1 billion extra to spend.with £500 million earmarked for tax cuts and the rest to be spread across government departments.

Spending on health is to increase by 9%. It looks good on paper but in the last week health workers at Galway's university hospital took industrial action in opposition to the closure of 60 hospital beds and the lay off of nursing staff.

Similar closures have been implemented at hospitals across the state. Any increase in health spending is welcome but it must be accompanied by comprehensive review of how our health service operates.

What is the point of the state building hospitals and medical wards if they are only going to be closed while waiting lists increase? These are the issues that Charlie McCreevy should be addressing this week, not leaking budget details.

An Phoblacht
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Dublin 1