BUS drivers could go out on strike in the near future, a union boss has warned.
Although Unite’s Eric Holmes says he will try to avoid industrial action, he fears it is inevitable if the results of a ballot next week lead the government to threaten drivers’ jobs.
Next Friday (September 21) will see drivers asked to vote on whether or not they will accept the loss of their paid lunch break.
The Department of Community, Culture and Leisure says it needs to do away with the payment in order to save an urgent £300,000. But drivers say this could cost them in the region of £3,500 to £4,000 a year, equivalent to a 12 per cent pay cut.
They say when the paid lunch break was introduced, they lost other areas of their pay and these would not be reinstated with the loss of paid lunch. Mr Holmes has also said the payment should actually be referred to as a ‘shift disturbance allowance’ rather than a paid lunch break because over the years this right had been eroded and drivers had become unrecognised shift workers.
Last month Mr Holmes said a letter sent by Community, Culture and Leisure Minister Graham Cregeen to bus drivers could be used as evidence in an unfair dismissal tribunal.
He said the letter was ‘very contentious and threatening’. Drivers believe the letter, which refers to negotiations over their contract, tells them their jobs are in jeopardy if they don’t sign up to new working conditions, including the loss of their paid lunch hour.
‘If it gets to that stage no doubt the bus drivers will be looking at taking strike action,’ said Mr Holmes, adding: ‘But we will avoid it if we can.’
Mr Holmes said ‘a lot of time’ had been spent negotiating and a money saving agreement was almost reached between the two sides, which would have done away with the paid meal relief, removed payment for the first seven days of sick leave and involved a longer driving day with a shift allowance to offset it. But he said director of public transport Ian Longworth had confused the issue and the offer was withdrawn. Mr Holmes said: ‘He is wilfully pushing these men. He wants them to strike because he knows public opinion is against them.’