Bus drivers to strike in Norwich

Striking bus worker

Bus drivers and bosses were today locked in last-ditch talks to avert a one-day strike which could cost the city up to £1m in lost revenue.

Almost 250 bus drivers are ready to strike from 4.30am on Monday after a ballot showed 81% were in favour of taking strike action.

Norwich Evening News reported: Members of the Transport and General Workers Union said they had resorted to the action because of a row over their pay increase for last year.

Ivan Crane, T&G regional industrial organiser, said there was frustration that the company had so far refused to enter into meaningful negotiations over a pay claim which was submitted in March last year.

He said: “Our members have shown extreme patience and will take strike action as the very last resort. We want to ensure our members receive fair pay and decent conditions for doing an extremely stressful job.” Mr Crane said talks were scheduled with First bosses today.

He said he hoped management would come back from the brink and discuss the 2006 pay claim. “We apologise for any inconvenience to the public, but any blame for that we believe must be put at the door of First Eastern Counties.”

One disgruntled driver said: “Lately the focus has been on buses running late, but that could be improved if the drivers were given recognition by the management for the difficult job they do. If drivers were properly paid and the relationship between drivers and the company was cordial, things would be much better.”

The driver, who did not wish to be named, said many First drivers were furious that office staff had received almost a 7% increase over the past two years, while drivers had received none.

He said: “It is all part of new legislation which will see drivers stop getting paid for their breaks. Although many workers don't now, this will cut once again into our earnings - it will knock me down by £40 or £50 every week.”

First Eastern Counties was informed today of the drivers' intentions. Peter Iddon, managing director, said: “I am disappointed the T&GWU has made the decision to take industrial action, which will cause major inconvenience to bus users, our customers, in Norwich.

“I would urge the T&GWU to come to the negotiating table so that we can find a solution that will avoid any disruption to bus services in the city and the inevitable inconvenience to our customers.”

The strike will start at 4.30am on Monday. When bus drivers went on a seven-day strike in January 2003 it cost the city £6.5m in lost revenue and trade dropped by 50%. Planned strike action over Christmas, after First announced an 8% rise in profits in six months, was called off at the eleventh hour in December. Norwich Union spokesman David Ross said given the advance notice, the company should be able to put arrangements in place to minimise disruption.

He said: “I am sure we will make alternative arrangements. It might be that we can use our shuttle buses, arrange for people to work from home, get more people car sharing or maybe use some taxis.

“With a few days' notice it means we can make appropriate plans.”

Passengers will also suffer if the strike goes ahead. Roanna Bond, 21, a student living off Earlham Road said: “It will really disrupt my day if there was an unexpected strike, I don't know how I will get into university, especially if the weather is bad.”

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