Dublin Bus, Ireland: Recruitment / Changing attitudes
Dublin Bus (Bus Átha Cliath) is an example of a semi-state company that has an active and wide-ranging diversity policy in place with specific steps to benefit older workers.
Dublin Bus is a major semi-state public transport provider in Dublin and the surrounding area. The company operates 1,079 buses on 170 routes and carries approximately 500,000 passengers a day. Passenger numbers for 2005 were 146 million. Dublin Bus is part of the CIE group, an umbrella organisation covering four subsidiaries: Irish Rail (Iarnród Éireann), Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus and CIE Tours. CIE is a statutory corporation and therefore has no issued share capital or equity invested in Dublin Bus.
Dublin Bus has 3,432 employees, the majority of whom are in operations grades (80%) with smaller numbers (14%) in maintenance, clerical, administrative and executive grades. Women represent just 6% of the staff (210 employees). These numbers have remained fairly static since 2002. Women have a younger age profile in the company than men, and after the age of 53 their numbers fall off significantly (this is explained in part by the existence of the marriage bar that was in place when this age group of women were working).
Description of the initiative
Dublin Bus has developed an action plan that covers a number of areas:
- applying the principles of equality and inclusion to people management;
- involving staff who reflect the diversity of the workforce;
- evaluating the benefits of any changes made in relation to equality and diversity.
Dublin Bus is unionised. In general, the company employs a partnership approach between senior management, employees and unions. Collective bargaining is governed by the social partnership process.
The Equality and Diversity Programme was established in Dublin Bus in January 2001. It was an initiative set up by the HR manager in response to a number of emerging concerns, including:
- the low percentage of women in certain grades in the organisation;
- the lack of progression of female employees;
- an increasing proportion of ethnic minority employees in the workforce;
- the needs of people with disabilities;
- the increasing age profile of the workforce;
- the introduction of equality legislation.
With regard to older workers, the company’s recruitment policy at the time risked being found to be discriminatory as there was a ban on recruiting staff over the age of 50 due to the restrictive pension arrangements in place.
The programme was established to develop a culture where equality and diversity are established as core values in the organisation. Dublin Bus introduced this initiative because the company recognised that the workforce and customer base consists of people with many differences. By acknowledging and valuing these differences, the organisation can ensure a working environment where people feel valued and where their potential is fully realised. This, in turn, will help to provide a better and safer service for customers, improve staff morale, reduce absenteeism and facilitate good teamwork. The programme aims to create an environment of dignity and respect and to put in place procedures throughout the organisation which ensure best practice in all business functions.
The first step was the introduction in 2001 of an Equality and Diversity Officer, who had the role of establishing and developing an equality and diversity programme. At the beginning, this constituted the bulk of the initiative. There was a potential weakness in this approach in that there was a risk of the initiative becoming over-reliant on the officer alone. The Equality and Diversity Officer received strong support from senior management.
The Equality and Diversity officer’s first task was to establish essential policies regarding equality and diversity. A working party was formed, composed of representatives of employees of various grades. This working party was central to the equality review that was carried out from 2001 to 2002. An Equality and Diversity Action Plan was developed as a result of this review, to cover the period from 2003 to 2010. The three key objectives of this plan are to:
- support and protect staff and business needs;
- build competencies and awareness;
- facilitate and drive change.
Under each of the objectives, a number of policies have been initiated that can be achieved by developing the best practice within a timeframe. The most relevant of these are policies on:
- equality and diversity;
- dignity and respect;
- equal status;
- recruitment and selection;
- work-life balance.
The philosophy of the Action Plan was based on a holistic approach. While the company took care to focus on things that needed to be addressed, it was anxious to avoid dividing people into disparate ‘target groups’.
Good practice today
Within the overall context of the programme, a number of actions are targeted to directly or indirectly benefit older workers.
- Removal of the upper age limit for recruits. Bus drivers have to be over 21 to be employed due to the requirements of the D licence. In the past, the pension arrangements in Dublin Bus also required that recruits had to be younger than fifty, as no one could join the pension scheme over the age of 50 and all employees had to be in the pension scheme. In order to facilitate the removal of the upper age limit, Dublin Bus introduced Private Retirement Savings Accounts (PRSAs) for recruits aged over 50; however, the retirement age of 65 has been retained. The Equality and Diversity Officer has noticed that, whereas previously people came into the company aged as young as 15 (as non-driving staff) and worked their way through the ranks, at present people are employed from all age groups right up to 63 years.
- Developing an initiative in conjunction with the Equality Authority as part of the ‘Say No to Ageism’ Week’. An Action Programme in the Transport Sector was developed by Dublin Bus, Irish Rail, Bus Éireann, the Rural Transport Initiative, and Veolia (the operators of the Luas light rail system). This focused mainly on customers and on promoting more positive images of older people. Dublin Bus also included employees in its action plan, by carrying out a focus group with all those staff members nearing retirement age. Participants were asked to give their views on leaving, and their experiences of working for Dublin Bus. All the participants said they were happy to retire and had made significant plans for retirement. They also were positive about their experiences of working for the company and stated that they would like to come back to the company as mentors and to give talks to younger employees. This would be difficult to put into practice as the company is restricted by the current collective agreement; however, the organisation is still examining the practice as a future possibility. It is an issue that the Equality and Diversity officer would like to develop in the future. With regard to older women, more women in general are progressing within the organisation. In the past, it was very rare for older women to be promoted. In the last number of years, however, a number of older women have competed with younger employees and have been promoted.
The biggest barrier to recruiting and supporting older workers by using flexible working conditions is the pension system operating in Dublin Bus. Some pension schemes are service based, in which case an employee’s pension is calculated on the basis of the last number of years worked. Therefore, if an employee wishes to job-share for the last three years before retirement, their pension would be reduced significantly. Other pensions are based on contributions, in which case the person has to pay the same contribution each week no matter what their circumstances are. The company is restricted in its ability to change arrangements due to the fact that the pension schemes are statutory instruments and therefore the company would have to apply to Government to change the existing schemes (this does not apply to the Personal Retirement Savings Accounts – PRSAs – recently introduced).