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Bus drivers resume strike after no ‘reasonable’ offer from Govt

Buses refuelling on Friday morning after the strike was called off, only to be reinstated a few hours later.

Gibraltar saw another day without a bus service after drivers resumed their strike in an ongoing pay dispute with the Gibraltar Government.

The Unite the Union members of the Gibraltar Bus Company called off strike action on Friday morning to negotiate their pay, after Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said he would not facilitate talks unless they returned to work.

Bus drivers could be seen refuelling their vehicles but largely their routes remained inactive.

A statement from Unite the Union said staff at the Gibraltar Bus Company feel frustrated by a lack of progress in negotiations.

“[On Thursday] afternoon Unite wrote to HMGOG officials stating that they wished to suspend industrial action on Friday 8th September in order to negotiate on pay, terms and conditions and that they wished to receive an offer presented by HMGOG prior to the start of the morning shift in GBCL,” Unite said.

Unite added that the Government said the earliest a meeting could take place was at 4pm on Tuesday, September 12, but after an exchange a meeting was held on Friday at 9am and bus drivers returned to work.

“HMGOG re-iterated that they still could not confirm a clear response on the offer until Tuesday 12th September 4pm,” Unite said.

“GBCL members have therefore reinforced their stance that without a reasonable offer placed in front of them, they are forced by HMGOG into no alternative but to continue their industrial action.”

“Unite has confirmed to HMGOG that should they confirm a reasonable offer in writing to the union, GBCL members will return to work on Sunday 10th September in order to provide a bus service for the people of Gibraltar.”

“Unite hopes going forward that HMGOG will not engage in any further smear tactics or misrepresentations of figures, but instead focus their efforts in finding an equitable solution with its workforce at GBCL so that the community can once again have a fully functional bus service.”

Unite members of the Gibraltar Bus Company have been on strike since last Wednesday when 98% voted in favour of industrial action.

This comes after months of negotiations and two unsuccessful last-minute talks with the Gibraltar Government on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.

Currently bus drivers earn £10.44 hourly, but the Government has flatly rejected they are underpaid.
Staff are calling for pay parity with other drivers working for the Government, particularly GJBS, who they say earn £4 more an hour.

But the Government has hit out against this and published figures of bus drivers’ salaries, which show that allowances and overtime have effectively more than doubled the salaries of some.

The figures showed the top earning person in the Gibraltar Bus Company receiving £70,000 last year, about half of which was overtime.

The top 11 earners had salaries of £50,000 or more, including overtime and allowances. Overall, some nine employees earned less than £30,000 out of the complement of 56 staff, even when overtime and allowances were factored in.

The lowest earner received a salary of £23,790 last year.

On Thursday, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo met with the bus drivers as they protested outside his office in No.6 Convent Place where he called for them to stop the strike and sit down at the negotiating table.

The Government have called their claim unacceptable, and neither credible nor serious, and also rejected the action insisting the pay claim amounted to between an 40% to 80% increase depending on grade.

But the bus drivers have called for basic pay to rise in a bid to reduce their overtime hours, which they say is forced upon them.

They have said they work 12 days in a row with shifts ranging from seven to 11 hours, with a two-day break between stretches.

The bus drivers have also said they work the days off in between and can spend a month behind the wheel.

The crux of the issue is parity on basic pay, which the drivers say lags behind others in similar roles.

Last night the GSD called on the parties in the dispute to resume talks as a matter of urgency.

Highlighting the importance of the service, the GSD said the focus must be on ensuring the bus service is resumed “as a matter of priority” and that drivers can get back to their lives based on fairness to them and to the taxpayer.

“What is unacceptable is for the Chief Minister to treat employees of the bus company in the way he did, as recorded by public television in which he stated emphatically that he would not speak to one of them,” said GSD MP Damon Bossino.

“This undignified behaviour needs to stop, temperatures brought down a few notches and dialogue re-opened for the sake of all parties and the public.”

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