BUS drivers have voted overwhelmingly against a deal that would mean them losing their paid lunch breaks – sparking renewed fears of industrial action.
The Unite union leadership had recommended that members accept the latest offer but in a ballot which took place on Monday, 93 drivers voted against the deal and only one voted in favour. There were no spoilt papers.
Community Culture and Leisure Minister Graham Cregeen MHK, described the ballot result as ‘disappointing’.
He warned drivers could lose their jobs as a result. He said: ‘We are in a financial position where we’ve no more money and we’ve got to live within our budget. I would hope they would realise the situation.
‘We would hope to keep drivers on but if we don’t have the new terms and conditions we’ve got to make the savings somewhere.’
Eric Holmes of the Unite union said: ‘It’s now in the hands of the Minister who has said he was taking sole responsibility.
‘I was expecting a split vote – I didn’t expect anything like that.’
Mr Holmes said the union had recommended members to accept the deal not because it was a good deal but because it was the better alternative.
He said he now expected dismissal notices to go out to all drivers informing them their current contracts had been terminated and asking them to sign a new contract with the new terms and conditions.
A ballot for industrial action would follow if this happened, he expected. ‘We are approaching the first stage of industrial action,’ he said. ‘The Minister has put his head on the block. He needs to go to Treasury if he has any sense. This is an essential service and there are all sorts of implications. This could lead to a court of inquiry.’
Under the offer rejected by the Unite membership, drivers’ lunch breaks will no longer be paid, sick pay will reduce to being based on 37 hours per week and maximum driving time will increase from 3 hours 45 minutes to 4 hours 10 minutes,
Mr Cregeen said no dismissal notices have yet been served.
He added: ‘The department is operating a vital public service in a challenging commercial environment. Budgets are reduced and fuel costs are rising. Not only must we provide the best service possible to our customers, we have to do so within our means and deliver value to the taxpayer. New terms and conditions for bus drivers are a big step towards achieving this objective.’
‘We will discuss how best to move forward from here but the need to achieve the savings remains as pressing as ever.’
Monday’s ballot was the second to be conducted on proposed changes to terms and conditions with the first also seeing an overwhelming no vote.