School bus industry representatives delay discussions on contract
Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan has today expressed her concern, following the last-minute cancellation of an agreed lock-down meeting to finalise the new school bus contract.
Ms MacTiernan said representatives of school bus contractors cancelled the meeting.
"The industry associations have had the final draft contract since late September, and while they have been able to be involved in two rallies of their members to complain about the contract, they have yet to make themselves available to meet with us to talk through any concerns," she said.
"Our negotiating team was ready to go into lock down talks which had been proposed by the Transport Forum for today (Friday) and Monday.
"We were then notified yesterday afternoon by the Transport Forum that they would not now be available to talk with us until next Wednesday, December 3.
"The Motor Trades Association has also declined to meet with us before next Wednesday.
"The associations know I am committed to sending out the offers of new 20 to 25-year contracts to school bus contractors by mid-December in enough time to have the contracts in place for the new school year.
"I had been encouraged and confident that, with discussions on Friday and Monday, we would be able to finalise the contract to the satisfaction of all parties comfortably within that timeline.
"The deferral of those discussions increases the risk that discussions will not be concluded in time.
"I hope the associations' decision to defer the negotiations reflects their confidence that the negotiations will be concluded quickly, and is not a misguided attempt to force the discussions into another school year.
"The Government's negotiating team has been available to sit down and work through the draft contract with the industry associations all day, every day this week and until close of business on Friday, December 5.
"However, final decisions on the contract offer must be made by close of business on December 5, to meet the logistical timeline to have the contracts sent out by mid-December.
"Contractors will then have a month to decide to accept or reject the contract offers, which will lapse in mid-January, 2004, so that the arrangements under the new contracts can be in place in time for the new school year.
"There will be no extension in discussions beyond December 5. It is through their own choice that they have continually declined to sit down and discuss the contract with us until December 3.
"Any delays in this timeline will mean the contract will not be in place for the new school year and this is not acceptable.
"A hot line has been established for operators who want to raise queries about the contract with us directly before December 5. They should call 1800 003 759.
"Operators' comments will be noted and a response to any query will be provided the next business day at the latest."