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The “Recovery” and the National Transport Authority

Cuts for Workers and a Cash Bonanza for Employment Agencies!

22 November 2019

Since the banking collapse millions of Euro have been cut from the public transport budget as part of the austerity programme, a funding dearth that has continued during the misnamed “recovery” period, two virtually indistinguishable concepts from the point of view of the working class.

As the quality of service faltered the State frequently quoted inefficient working practices as the cause of the problem. Further austerity was applied and so on it went. That inefficiencies existed in a chronically underfunded public transport system is hardly surprising, the restoration of funding being the obvious logical solution, but the government cried poverty and quoted competition laws. There was no attempt to address the issue by investment and the only option posed was an auction of bus routes through a newly established body, the National Transport Authority (NTA).
The NTA was founded in 2009 ostensibly for the purpose of “bus market regulation and the procurement of public services” or to put it more accurately, it was put in place to oversee a gradual transition from public to private ownership.  In a pattern similar to all privatisation drives the state exaggerated inefficiencies and continued to squeeze funding while threatening the services economic collapse as a way to facilitate the farming out of plumb routes to private companies.

Of course when transport workers in an impressive show of solidarity and determination took strike action, including at one point wildcat action, against the creeping privatisation of Bus Eireann and Dublin Bus, Siptu and the NBRU got them back to work post haste and entered negotiations, wringing their hands in anguish and pleading with Shane Ross to intervene! To nobody's surprise the minister refused to budge. Now almost 24% of Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann routes are operated by private companies and as we edge relentlessly towards the next round of contract awards by the NTA we can expect a further expansion of private interests in public transport provision.

A rotten rationale

The rationale of the states argument for privatisation, poor efficiency, an argument only weakly countered by the union bureaucrats, took a blow last week however. This paragon of free market virtue, the NTA, which now makes decisions on “efficiencies” in public transport provision finds itself in the spotlight as not only wasteful and inefficient but also as being guilty of the “gross mismanagement” of resources.

Their inefficiencies and mismanagement gives lie to the central tenet of the constant right wing refrain for privatisation of services and lays bare its real rationale; the transfer of public funds into private bank accounts.

Echoing the recent huge overspend on employment agencies by RTE after the layoff of fulltime pensionable jobs it has emerged that the NTA's 114 full time staff are outnumbered by the 150 outsourced agency workers and for every worker supplied by these agencies the agency receives approximately another wage on top.

Full time staff at the NTA “are paid on average about €73,000 a year including PRSI and pension payments while the average cost of each agency worker is nearly €140,000.”  This adds up to a profit for the Agencies, which are exploiting the labour of the agency workers who receive only the same wage as the other workers minus all the benefits, of more than one million Euro a year. The NTA euphemistically describe this gift to agency proprietors as a “significant cost premium”.

This cash bonanza for the agencies is typical of the transfer of wealth from working people to the employers that is the basis of the so called recovery.

This “recovery” so far has left such an acute shortage of public housing, designed to fuel a housing bubble, that a record number of people are homeless; it has destroyed terms and conditions for workers and resulted in pay cuts, pay offs and emigration; it has resulted in severe staff shortages in hospitals and two tier pay in schools while simultaneously lining the pockets of vulture funds, global tax avoiding corporations, banks and most obviously in this case employment agency owners.

Speaking during the transport workers strike in 2017 a trade union bureaucrat noted the “uncontainable anger” of the bus workers as he struggled to stop their wildcat tactics and put the cork back in to the bottle. Conditions have deteriorated considerably since then, the effects of Brexit haven't struck yet and a global economic downturn looms. Beyond a doubt that cork will pop again!

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