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Thursday, August 11, 2022

Franchises ‘will ensure bus staff are well paid’

Following a series of strikes, the Welsh government says bus franchises will maintain workers’ wages and conditions. Rodry Clark reports

The abandoned Ebbw Vale bus stop during this month’s strike by some Stagecoach employees

The Welsh government says future bus concessions will preserve workers’ conditions and guarantee workers good wages.

Legislation to allow concessions in Wales was shelved last year because of Covid-19 and a lack of time before the May 2021 election, but the Labor government is due to issue a new white paper on bus reform early next year.

The issue came up at Sened this month when MSs addressed the disruption as United union members at Stagecoach South Wales and Arriva Buses Wales took strike action in wage disputes.

We need to make sure with the transition to franchising that workers’ conditions are maintained and the pursuit of quick commercial profit does not precede the rights and needs of a well-paid and qualified workforce to serve the needs of passengers

On November 10, Deputy Climate Change Minister Lee Waters said: “We need to make sure when we move to franchising that workers’ conditions are maintained and the desire for quick commercial gain is not put before the rights and needs of a well-paid and qualified workforce to serve the needs of passengers.”

A week later, from Plaid Cymru MS said that the bus drivers are key employees who deserve a better deal, and it is time to return the bus services to public hands.
Conservative MS applauded his comments. Arriva drivers were still on strike at the time.

Waters responded: “There are patches of arrangements in Wales because it is a commercial market, a commercial market set up deliberately by the Conservatives under the privatization of buses.

“Arriva drivers are generally one of the better salaries in Wales right now, at a better salary than those at Stagecoach, where there has been controversy recently, but they are not getting as good a salary as those across the border at Merseyside.

“So these are complex commercial matters, but I can certainly give the commitment we want to see consistency across Wales, both of services, of schedules and of staff terms and conditions. And a representative in the new year. “

It sounds like a franchise is happening, even though no one has told the industry or local authorities.

Bev Fowles, vice chairman of the Cymru Coaches and Buses Association, said: “It is very interesting that he has brought back the word‘ f ’again. The franchise has been under the table for a long time, on the basis that it scares everyone. It sounds like a franchise is going on, even though no one has told the industry or the local authorities. “

Existing terms and conditions will be protected by TUPE for any employee who switched to a franchise operator, said Pauls, who worked for First in London’s franchise bus network in the 1990s.

He thought Waters’ comments could be an indicator that the Welsh government has accepted that bus services need additional funding. In the last decade the government has cut funding for its grant to operators and then froze the total amount by £ 25 million a year, despite inflationary increases in operator costs.

I do not like his use of the word franchise because it runs rabbits, but I can see where it comes from in terms of quality, not just for the staff but for everyone, and it gives the customer a better deal

“I think he understands that quality costs money,” Pauls said. “I do not like his use of the word franchise because it runs rabbits, but I can see where it comes from in terms of quality, not just for the staff but for everyone, and that gives the customer a better deal.”

He hoped that in the future the company would value bus drivers more. “These guys go out every day and do a wonderful job despite the intolerance of drivers, not to mention the intolerance of passengers. People think ‘he’s just a driver’ but I’m sorry, he’s more than that. Drivers do a tremendously responsible job.”

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger transport.

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