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FactCheck: Does this Dublin Bus drivers' leaflet stand up to scrutiny?

We got out the red pen on a leaflet circulated by Dublin Bus driver unions ahead of tomorrow’s strike action.

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WITH STRIKE ACTION set to begin in the morning, and bus services ending at 9pm tonight, Dublin Bus will be the topic of much conversation over the next two days.

On Tuesday, the National Bus and Railworkers’ Union (NBRU) dropped tens of thousands of leaflets on buses throughout the capital, making the case for industrial action, and in an effort to garner the support of the public.

The leaflet also contained a list of factual claims. Eoin in Firhouse in Dublin 24 got in touch with us and asked us to check it out.

(Remember, if you see a fact-filled pamphlet from a union, government body, or local politician, email factcheck@thejournal.ie or tweet @TJ_FactCheck).

The Facts

Here’s the leaflet in question:

nbruoriginal Source: For a full-size version of this image, click here

In a departure from our usual format, we’re going to fact-check each claim separately, and tally the verdicts at the end.

1. “Dublin Bus staff have had no pay rise since 2008″

TRUE. The reference to “staff” here is to drivers, whom the NBRU represent.

The union provided documents to FactCheck showing almost identical rates of pay across several categories, and for drivers with various lengths of service to the company, from 2008 and 2016.

Source: Courtesy of the NBRU. For a full-size version of this image, click here

As you can see there have been some miniscule increases, as well as decreases. However, our analysis of the numbers showed that on average, there was an increase of 0.06% in the last eight years.

This effectively means wages have remained static. Furthermore, there have been no formally negotiated pay increases between Dublin Bus and the unions in the last eight years. Dublin Bus told FactCheck there had been a “pay freeze” since 2008.

2. “Dublin Bus staff are owed a 6% pay increase since 2008″

TRUE. Under the terms of an agreement between the unions and Dublin Bus, called “Towards 2016″, staff were due to receive a 3.5% pay rise in April 2009, and a further 2.5% increase in October 2009.

That combined 6% increase was deferred until December 2009 under a cost-cutting programme that year, but has not since materialised.

3. “Dublin Bus staff have endured two cost-cutting measures since 2009″

TRUE. Actually, the staff have experienced a series of cost reductions in that time period, but there were two major rounds of cuts.

In 2009, Dublin Bus made 290 drivers redundant and cut 120 buses from the fleet (about 10%), as RTE reported at the time.

Three years later, the company wrote that the cost-cutting programme had by then led to a “16% reduction in the work force, 21% reduction in the Dublin Bus fleet, and implementation of a pay freeze since 2008″.

In 2013, Dublin Bus implemented a swathe of cost-cutting measures, aimed at reducing a deficit in the company’s accounts which had by then amounted to €52 million.

4. “Dublin Bus staff have helped make Dublin Bus profitable again. €23 million surplus in the last two years”

TRUE. According to annual reports, Dublin Bus ran a significant deficit every year from 2006 to 2012. In 2013, there was a small turnaround, when they achieved a surplus of €481,000.

In 2014 and 2015, the surpluses were €11,569,000 and €10,177,000 – a total of €21,746,000, just 5% off the figure given by the NBRU.

5. “Dublin Bus staff have contributed significant productivity since 2008, including (a) a cut in overtime payments, (b) reduction in staff numbers, (c) a 13-hour working day on some duties, to name but a few…”

(a) The cut in overtime paymentsTRUE.

As part of the 2013 cost cuts, the company implemented a policy which: ended clerical overtime at depots on Saturdays; reduced Sunday overtime from double time and a half to double time; cut Monday-Saturday overtime to flat time; cut the Bank Holiday rate to double time.

The cuts ended after 19 months, and in 2015 the former overtime payment arrangements were reinstated.

(b) The reduction in staff numbersTRUE.

According to annual reports, the total number of employees at Dublin Bus fell steadily between 2008 and 2014, when it remained flat, before an increase in 2015.

In 2008, Dublin Bus had 3,825 employees. In 2015, that number was 3,313.

According to figures given to FactCheck by Dublin Bus, the company had 2,811 drivers in 2008. In 2016, that number is 2,472.

(c) The 13-hour working dayTRUE.

As part of the 2009 round of cost-cutting, all-day shifts known as “universal”, “bogie” and “Euro” shifts were extended from 12 to 13 hours.

These shifts typically involve a driver starting at 7am and ending at 7pm, with a four-hour break in the middle. After the 2009 changes, that shift would start at 7am and end at 8pm, instead.

6. “It’s eight years since Dublin Bus staff received a pay increase, during that time everyday costs have risen” – Dermot O’Leary

As we addressed above, it is true that Dublin Bus staff have not received a pay increase in eight years.

The claim on costs is Half TRUE. If you take the consumer price index (CPI) as the best available measure of “everyday costs”, prices fell between Autumn 2008 and January 2010, but have been rising steadily for the the past six and a half years, as the chart below shows.

According to Dublin Bus, the company’s staff received a 2.5% pay increase in January 2008, when the CPI was 4.2% higher than in 2006. As of July 2016, the CPI is 6.9% above 2006 prices, suggesting a slight increase.

However, the most recent pay increase (a further 2.5%) was in July 2008, when the CPI was 7.6% above the 2006 benchmark, suggesting a small decrease in its current level.

Source: For a full-size version of this chart, click here

7. “Since 2008 successive governments have reduced Dublin Bus funding by 32%”

TRUE. According to Dublin Bus annual reports, the government subvention to Dublin Bus (known as the “public service obligation payment”) was €85,629,000 in 2008.

It was then cut in six out of the seven subsequent years, falling to €57,700,000 in 2015 – a decrease of 32.6% from 2008.

That’s just 0.6% off the figure presented by the NBRU.

8. “The subvention was already one of the lowest in Europe before it was cut”

UNPROVEN.

In 2007, the government subvention to Dublin Bus was 28.6% of its total revenue (€80,078,000 out of €280,442,000).

According to a 2009 report by Deloitte, highlighted by the NRBU in response to FactCheck, this rate of subvention (not amount of subvention), was lower than five other comparable European cities examined:

Lyon, where the subvention was 79% of revenue; Brussels (68%); Amsterdam (62%); Zurich (57%); London (38.5%, excluding certain costs).

It seems quite plausible that before it was cut in 2009, the state subvention for Dublin Bus as a percentage of its total revenue, was among the lowest in Europe.

However, the best data we have for that time period (2007) only involves a comparison with five other cities.

And there’s a further problem, here. If we’re using “subvention as a proportion of revenue” as the point of comparison with other European cities, then we have to consider whether “subvention as a proportion of revenue” was, in fact, cut after 2007.

It wasn’t, at least not for some time. While the amount of the government subvention fell steadily from 2009 to 2012, as a share of total revenue it was stable, hovering around 29% or 30%.

In 2013, it dropped significantly, from 28% to 24%, and was cut again in 2014, to 21.7%, as this chart shows.

revenue_subvention Source: For a full-size version of this chart, click here

So it’s important to be clear that when the NBRU says “before it was cut”, they’re talking about the total amount of government subvention, which was cut from 2009 onwards.

But when they say “one of the lowest in Europe”, they’re talking about the government subvention as a proportion of total revenue, which did not fall in 2009, but did in 2013.

Once those two different measures are clearly distinguished, we can still coherently evaluate whether subvention as a percentage of revenue was among the lowest in Europe, before subvention as a total amount was cut, in 2009.

And while this appears quite plausible, based on the 2007 data from Deloitte, unfortunately those figures only compare Dublin with five other cities. So this claim has to be rated UNPROVEN.

9. “Fine Gael put 10% of Dublin Bus up for privatisation”

Mostly TRUE.

In January 2015 the National Transport Authority (NTA) put 23 Dublin Bus routes (around 10%) out to tender, along with some Bus Éireann routes, having announced the decision at the end of 2013.

Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann are eligible to bid on the routes, along with private operators.

It’s important to note that the plan refers to 10% of routes, and not “10% of Dublin Bus”, as it is phrased in the leaflet – a term which could be misinterpreted as involving a share of ownership of the company itself.

The NTA denied that the move amounted to privatisation, pointing out that there had been no “transfer of ownership [or] loss of public control”.

However, that requires a somewhat strict definition of the term “privatisation”, which is commonly understood to also apply to the state outsourcing certain services or opening up sections of a particular market to competition.

In July 2013, it was reported by the Irish Times and Irish Independent that then Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, a Fine Gael TD, had submitted proposals to cabinet to put to tender 10% of bus routes.

His successor, Fine Gael TD Paschal Donohoe, oversaw the implementation of the plan, and defended it publicly, although he also denied it amounted to privatisation.

The claim is Mostly TRUE, allowing for the fact that the tender, while conceived and overseen by Fine Gael Ministers, was executed by the National Transport Authority.

Out of 11 factual claims in the leaflet:

  • Eight are TRUE
  • One is Mostly TRUE
  • One is Half TRUE
  • One is UNPROVEN

Here’s how it looks after FactCheck went through it with a red pen:

NBRUfinal Source: For a full-size version of this image, click here

Send your FactCheck requests to factcheck@thejournal.ie

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About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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