No real sign of a resolution to bus dispute

Buses out of service at Banks Circus during last Thursday's strike action

Buses out of service at Banks Circus during last Thursday's strike action

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THE second bus strike passed with relative peace on Thursday, though there is still little sign of an agreement over drivers’ pay and conditions.

The half-day strike may not be the last, with the prospect of further industrial action in February and March.

Eric Holmes, regional officer for the Unite union, rejected as ‘scaremongering’ claims that drivers would have abandoned their vehicles on the roads when the stoppage began at 1pm.

In the event, no passengers were left stranded as all buses operating at 1pm were driven by staff not taking industrial action.

Mr Holmes said the drivers had originally offered to take the buses back to the depot if they were still on a route when they withdrew their labour. But he claimed public transport director Ian Longworth did not accept that.

‘The idea that drivers would have abandoned their vehicles all over the place was just scaremongering. They would have left them at the nearest bus stop.’

During Thursday’s half day stoppage, no buses went in or out of the gates at the Banks Circus depot. Instead spare buses were parked up at the Sea Terminal.

Mr Holmes said the turn-out on the picket line at Banks Circus was larger than that during the first strike, which took place over three days before Christmas.

He said: ‘There were more drivers on the picket line - simply from the fact that they had been thrown out of the premises at 11am.’

Nick Black, Chief Executive of the Department of Community, Culture and Leisure, said he was happy with how the department’s contingency measures handled the strike.

‘Whilst there were delays to some rail services, we were able to run more bus services than advertised,’ he said, explaining that this was possible because of efforts to recruit more casual drivers.

‘The rail services rely on equipment that is over 100 years old and considering that age and the weather we have had during strikes we feel that the railways have provided very useful additional capacity.’

He added that the department had been informed about further strikes scheduled for February and March, and that planning was already underway to minimise travel disruption if they went ahead.

Chief Minister Allan Bell said: ‘Obviously I’m disappointed the drivers feel they have to take further strike action.

‘I understand that all drivers have now signed the new terms and conditions and it is therefore hard to understand why these strikes are continuing.’

Leisure Minister Graham Cregeen said the government saved money from Thursday’s strike – albeit a small amount – as savings on wages balanced against the cost of employing other drivers and putting on trains and trams.

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