Hopes for end to bus drivers' strike

THE managing director of a bus company said last night he was confident that new talks could avert a fresh round of potentially-crippling strike action.

By Danielle Nuttall

THE managing director of a bus company said last night he was confident that new talks could avert a fresh round of potentially-crippling strike action.

Union leaders and First Eastern Counties bosses have agreed to hold formal talks today in a bid to resolve an industrial dispute, which has paralysed the local bus network over the past week.

A seven-day strike held by members of the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU) was due to end at midnight last night, with services expected to return to normal today.

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The union has threatened further action next week if the bus company does not "move" to resolve the matter, but was hopeful last night new talks could provide a breakthrough.

Keith Andrews, managing director of First Eastern Counties, said last night: "I think there is absolutely every chance there will be no further action.

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"I am confident we are all highly motivated to resolve this. There cannot be guarantees. We have moved beyond informal contact to the extent, with (arbitration service) Acas, we are meeting formally starting tomorrow afternoon.

"We have got to the position where we are confident we can find a way through this and resolve this quickly because the union say they want to get back to work, and hundreds of thousands of people who have suffered want to get back to normal.

"You can never be absolutely certain but from the discussions I have had all the motivation is there from all of us. I'm confident."

A spokesman for the TGWU said: "The union very much hopes that the dispute could be resolved provided the company have moved.

"No trade union takes action as a first resort, it is always a last resort."

The spokesman added that if the matter was not resolved, further strike action would take place.

The strike was triggered over pay and conditions, however Mr Andrews said the dispute over pay and back pay had now been resolved.

He said the only sticking point that remained was the company's wish to protect employee's pensions, which involves linking pensions to the accepted inflation index, the Retail Price Index (RPI).

There have been claims from the union that there did not appear to be any movement from First Eastern Counties to try to resolve the dispute.

But Mr Andrews said: "I have personally spent quite a considerable amount of time over the weekend talking to people.

"It would not be fair to say we are sitting here and letting this happen."

He added: "We have been concentrating on how we can close that last little gap.

"We are deeply conscious of the disruption this has caused to our customers and for this we apologise. The concerns of us all are to provide a continuing service to our customers."

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