Bus dispute always centred on getting value for money

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I WISH to respond to the letter by Dave Adamson printed in the Independent (July 1).

One of the issues between the Department of Community, Culture and Leisure and its bus drivers is that of driving time.

The department recognises that driving hours have an impact on drivers’ welfare and potentially on passenger safety but would point out that in the United Kingdom bus drivers are allowed to work for five-and-a-half hours in a single driving turn.

Unite, the union, is seeking to reduce this to four-and-a-half hours in the United Kingdom. This department has asked its drivers to drive for longer than the three hours currently provided by their working agreement.

The department is already permitted to ask drivers to drive longer duties when premium pay rates apply.

There appears to be no shortage in volunteers for these duties, nor am I aware that those wishing to drive them raise concerns about their welfare or safety. The issue is, in fact, not one of welfare or safety but one simply of value for money; currently, bus drivers are at the wheel for something like two thirds of their paid time.

Only when on premium pay do they approach the industry average of time at the wheel as a percentage of their shift, this being about 80 per cent.

Clearly, the more hours that can be driven within the total paid hours, the more efficient the department will be and the less subsidy the taxpayer will need to provide.

Fortunately, the representatives of our drivers have taken a reasonable view of the situation and have agreed to drive for up to three hours 45 minutes in a duty and to continue driving for longer periods when premium pay applies.

Turning to the issue of casual drivers, I am not able to comment on the motivation of those applying for the role. I am, however, aware that these drivers typically will cover gaps in shifts of one or two hours and are required to make a declaration as to what other work they have done that day before signing on for duty.

I trust this clarifies the situation on a factual basis.

DAVID CRETNEY MHK

Minister for Community

Culture and Leisure

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