Strike misery for bus passengers

BUS passengers across Essex face a day of travel misery next week as drivers carry out a day of strike action.

Drivers at First Buses’ depots including Colchester, Clacton, Harwich,Braintree and Chelmsford are involved following a new dispute over terms and conditions.

Engineers are also taking strike action at the same time in dispute over pay.

First’s management last night apologised to passengers and pledged to run as many services as possible next Monday.

However, they have warned passengers to make alternative arrangements on the day.

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The industrial action follows a ballot by employees last week and failed negotiations between First and Unite the Union.

It follows a pay dispute last December which was resolved with the help of ACAS through mediation.

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Since the agreement was reached, the union has raised concerns about the terms and conditions for existing and new staff which were not included within the Mediator’s recommendations.

Alan Pilbeam, managing director of First East England, said the action was “extremely unfair” on passengers.

He said: “I am extremely disappointed that our passengers face inconvenience and disruption.

“Despite our best efforts to resolve the situation, Unite the Union has decided on a course of action that will have a significant negative impact on the people and businesses of Essex.

“We believe that it is extremely unfair on our customers and to the company and is also contrary to the spirit of the mediation that subsequently the trade union are threatening and taking industrial action over a point that was discussed at mediation, but did not form part of the recommendations which the company honoured in full to settle the pay agreement.

“In summary, the company has met the aspirations and provided a solution to the dispute and also offered to go to ACAS.

“Given this, it makes no real sense as to why the industrial action is still going ahead.

“I would like to apologise to our passengers and assure them of our commitment to bring this dispute to an end.”

Peter Kay, secretary of Colchester Bus Users Support Group said: “In view of the current government situation, it looks as though it will be one of those periods where everybody wants a reason for going out on strike and that becomes damaging to have that kind of atmposhere.”

Mr Kay predicted one-day of action would be tolerated by passengers but warned long periods of industrial action could see passenger numbers drop.

Passengers have been told they will be able to get updates on the day from can visit www.firstgroup.comwhich will be regularly updated with service information, or call the First Customer Service team on 08456 020 121.

No one from Unite was available for comment last night.

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