Free rides keep bus staff on road

Drivers sacked for going on strike win Essex women's sympathies with un ion-financed service offering friendly and safe journey

The buses are free and the service friendly with pensioners being helped on by solicitous drivers. They are the latest tactic in a lengthy industrial struggle between Britain's second largest bus company and the transport workers' union in Chelmsf ord, the county town of Essex.

The buses are free and the service friendly with pensioners being helped on by solicitous drivers. They are the latest tactic in a lengthy industrial struggle between Britain's second largest bus company and the transport workers' union in Chelmsford, the county town of Essex.

The free buses are being laid on by the union after Badgerline, which owns the local Eastern National bus company, sacked 96 of its drivers who went on strike in November.

The drivers, who were paid about £218 for a 45-hour week, had voted for industrial action over the company's attempt to increase the maximum time a driver would be in charge of a bus from four hours to four hours, 45 minutes.

The drivers were worried about safety. One, Bill Horslen, said: "There were a couple of bus crashes in London over Christmas and one of the drivers said quite specifically that the long hours and the stress caused the accident. We're trying to stop that happening here." After receiving a letter warning them that they would be dismissed if they went on strike, the drivers walked out on 18 November.

Eager to obtain public support for their action, just before Christmas, the drivers began operating a free bus service on some of the routes within Chelmsford. Yesterday, Bill Morris, general secretary of the T&GWU, brought two of the union's buses to C h elmsford to increase the number of vehicles providing the free service to five.

Mr Morris sees the strike as particularly important for the trade union movement. He said yesterday: "These workers went through all the correct procedures before taking industrial action. They had a ballot and 74.5 per cent of them supported strike action, but they still all got sacked. No trade unionist can feel safe if this can happen."

The idea is not to provide a commercial bus service in opposition to Eastern National but to scoop up some of the company's custom and earn a lot of goodwill in the process by providing what the union says is a "safe journey". If one of yesterday's midd a y runs from Moulsham Lodge on the outskirts of Chelmsford on the 45 route was anything to go by, the union is winning the hearts and minds of Essex women.

Each 12- seater minibus has a driver and a helper. The trick, according to Ron Sparks, one the sacked drivers who was at the wheel, is to get just in front of the Eastern National bus to grab all the passengers, a tactic used throughout the country by private bus firms competing against each other. Starting from Moulsham Lodge, the bus was virtually full with women and children after just a couple of stops.

Jean Burgess said it was the third time she had used the service: "The other buses never seem to come now. And the last one I took had a Swedish driver who didn't understand English money and tried to give me lots of change when he shouldn't have done. He must be costing the company lots of money," she said with a chuckle.

Like everyone on the bus, Mrs Burgess supported the drivers: "They won't get their jobs back, but I'm glad they're trying to." But wasn't this Essex, not known for its sympathies with striking workers? "We're all behind them," echoed all the women on thebus. And they all threw the £1 10 fare in the donations box as they got off.

Back at the bus station, the strikers had just stopped a bus going out with two broken rear windows by alerting the company. it is clearly short of drivers since half of its buses are sporting L-plates, though it emphasises that only qualified drivers are carrying passengers.

Mr Morris leaves for a meeting with Eastern National's managing director, Robin Orbell, but he is not hopeful of a settlement: "We are in for a long haul and we are prepared to send more buses if necessary."

Mr Orbell said: "The union is using its members' subscriptions to undermine the jobs of our staff, 400 of whom are in the Transport & General Workers union."

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Gabriel Agbonlahor, Alexis Sanchez, Alan Pardew and Graziano Pelle
footballAfter QPR draw, follow Villa vs Arsenal, Newcastle vs Hull and Swansea vs Southampton
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam