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‘Mass exodus’ of Dundee bus drivers facing ‘poor working conditions’

Scores of drivers have walked away from city bus firm Xplore Dundee over “poor working conditions”, it has been claimed.

Dundee passengers are currently facing a reduced level of service in the city amid a lack of drivers on key routes.

Xplore Dundee managers say they are facing the same challenges as other UK bus and transport companies dealing with the pandemic’s effect on their workforce.

But sources close to drivers in Dundee claim growing tensions between management and workers at the company have exacerbated shortages — with Dundee passengers ultimately paying the price in a reduced level of service.

Sources claim at least 50 drivers have left the company over a range of issues including changes to working patterns, which one former driver described as “exhausting”.

Is there bus driver shortage in Dundee?

The company maintains it has the right number of drivers “for current service levels”.

Managers put recent delays and cancellations down to “disruption due to Covid isolations and high levels of absenteeism”.

But sources close to the drivers did not agree.

One said: “Most left to go to other jobs.

“Covid-19 had no bearing on suspending services. It’s purely down to folk leaving the poor working conditions.”

What changes did bosses ask drivers to accept?

Drivers’ new terms and conditions call for “improved flexibility” from staff, in part to “stop excessive waste” and “increase efficiency”.

A document outlining the changes also states the change is required to “improve schedules for drivers”.

What has the Dundee bus driver shortage to do with Xplore’s new owners?

Xplore Dundee is working with Dundee City Council to provide free driver training and a guaranteed interview in an attempt to fill vacancies.

Greenock-based McGill’s Buses bought Xplore Dundee from National Express in December 2020.

The new owners changed working conditions earlier this year.

Workers initially rejected the deal, but later agreed to it after managers made tweaks, sources said.

Aside from the “improved flexibility” other changes to working conditions included changes to sick pay and no extra pay rates during overtime.

Staff only now get the company sick pay benefit from the fourth day off because of a “misuse” by a “minority” of workers, according to official documents.

Statutory sick pay still applies for the first three days to “provide some cover when truly needed”.

Managers have also stripped drivers of an extra day off due to the “extraordinarily high costs to the business”, the terms and conditions state.

Managers previously gave the time back in return for the irregular nature of bus driver work patterns.

Bosses also deferred a previously agreed pay rise until January 2022.

Dozens of drivers began leaving Xplore Dundee in the aftermath of the deal.

One described the “mass exodus” as seeing between four and six drivers quit a week during April and May while the country was still dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The source said the numbers quitting tapered off to about two or three a week later in the year.

‘Xplore Dundee is not short of drivers’

Ralph Roberts is CEO of McGill’s Buses, which owns Xplore Dundee.

He said: “There is a post pandemic UK wide driver shortage. This is a fact and has nothing to do with Dundee.

“However, Xplore Dundee is not short of drivers for the current service levels. Rather, there has been disruption due to Covid isolations and high levels of absenteeism.

“Current staff numbers are correct for the mileage operated. But we want to grow the business back to pre-pandemic levels over time. So we will be recruiting to do that.

“We are operating 90% of our pre-pandemic mileage but are carrying 75% of pre-pandemic passengers. We could adjust mileage down to suit footfall levels but have chosen instead to maintain the Dundee bus network.

“So that there is a comprehensive network of services for the people of Dundee.

 

McGill's CEO Ralph Roberts, centre, with McGills buses chairman James Easdale, right, and his brother Sandy in Dundee.
McGill’s CEO Ralph Roberts, centre, with McGills buses chairman James Easdale, right, and his brother Sandy in Dundee.

He continued: “McGill’s is a stable company that runs quality bus services and we have a progressive plan for the bus services of Dundee.

“A tangible sign of that will be the new electric buses that we have bought and go into service in December.

“There were some minor changes to working practices earlier in 2021 and these were unanimously accepted by the workforce.

“These changes included shifts that gave a better work / life balance and now over 50% of the workforce benefit from a four day week.”

We would like to correct this story first published on Monday, November 29.

Bus operator McGill’s did not introduce a seven-day working pattern or the long breaks referred to by one of the sources in our initial story.

The staff asked McGill’s to continue with the former and to remove the latter.

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