Friday, 17 January 2014

Trouble on the buses – White v C.T. Plus trading as Liberty Bus - Understanding the frustrations of drivers and staff

“An unsocial job with unsocial hours”
Senior Manager C.T. Plus on being a bus driver

Last year there was nearly a strike at Jersey’s Bus Company. The reasons were far from clear. It appeared that an intransigent management was asserting its authority over its employees with a new more rigorous regime and meeting resistance. There was talk of attempts to break the Union.

Yesterday the Jersey Employment Tribunal began hearing a claim for constructive unfair dismissal by a bus driver against her employer C.T. Plus, better known to commuters as Liberty Bus.

The previous provider of bus transport in Jersey, Connex, ran the service on a cost plus basis. They charged the States of Jersey the cost plus a fee for their efforts. The new contract imposed by the States of Jersey, through the TTS Minister appears to set a budget out of which the provider must make a profit.  The profit will, naturally, be made at the expense of employees; the ones who do the work. This new dynamic in the business lends to a more ruthless management approach.

Split shifts

The nub of discontent would appear to be split shifts. There are busses active from 5am until 1pm and someone is going to be driving them. Under Connex, drivers had the same shift for the entirety of the week, making it easier to plan life outside work. Everyone had Sunday off. The new CT Plus regime is more onerous with different shifts every day.

The Senior Manager of CT Plus described split shifts as “a fact of life of the bus industry”. In other words it’s about speed up. The wheels of the factory mill will turn for longer, with fewer staff, doing more work. The driver when she sought to complain was continually told by management that “split shifts are here to stay”

Interesting evidence came out as how drivers do have very little turnaround time to bring the bus into the station, unload, move on to stand inside the station, load and depart. So short is the time allotted that drivers are unable to even take a “comfort break” – going to the toilet as you and I know this bodily function.

The driver had a number of customer complaints against her of which the “external HR” representing the employer, made much. This was perhaps inevitable given the tight new timetables. 

The No7 bus to Port du Rocher - the “Last Straw Incident” – resignation 10th May 2013

We heard evidence where confusion over the correct route to follow around Rozel and error on the route instruction, led to a heated radio argument between driver and control. The driver was intent on getting her 18 passengers into town in time for work, whilst the controller wanted her to go back and pick up passengers at St Martin Parish Hall. The instructions, received as she was on a stop at Five Oaks opposite the JEP building, would have meant an additional 40 minutes to the journey. The busses simply could not turn easily and had to take circuitous routes to get back to any particular point. We heard that the new busses were unable to negotiate all the way around the five oaks roundabout!

The Union

Although Unite the union had provided a lawyer from Viberts, the Union lawyers, there was a slight hint of the disconnect between Union members and the bureaucracy. The driver repeatedly said that she did not know the details of negotiations that were then underway between representatives of the Union and the members over hours and shifts. When she wanted help over a grievance procedure she went to JACS not the Union representatives.[***Having spoken to officials of Unite, they confirm that full support was given to the driver. Members frequently go to JACS for advice and then back to the Union to confirm their position.]

Partly because of Connex obstruction, the new CT Plus management seems to have had little opportunity to have contact with the workforce of drivers before the start day. Little in the way of training was provided as to how to work the touch screen ticket machines. The company handbook was handed out without further explanation.

It is the employees case that the CT Plus management is a litany of disorganization. There were disciplinaries for minor matters, including broken wing mirrors on the buses. The management style is one of rule by disciplinary. No wonder employee morale is low.


  1. I would not class a broken wing mirror as a minor matter. As this would have involved some kind of accident.
    We need a better bus service in the Island and we should let Liberty Bus run their service as they see fit and not as the union or staff see fit.

    1. So,the management perogative trumps all it seems - workers lives and the commuter. If an organisation is to run efficiently then there needs to be cooperation between all. A lot of the blame rests with TTS and the Minister to negoiate a smooth transition. Breaking the Union is somewhere in the background to all this and it should be something to which all workers are on the alert. The busses first, then who next?

    2. @Anon: no, not the case. This is a little bit technical, but bear with me

      The driving characteristics of the new buses CTPlus brought in are significantly different to those that Connex had. All of Connex's buses were "door-forward" - that is, the access door was in front of the front wheels, and they had a short-ish wheelbase (distance between the front and rear axles) relative to the length of the bus. The new buses are "wheel-forward" - the door and driver are behind the front axle, and the wheelbase is longer. Result: they don't turn tight corners anywhere near as well, and you do get cases (I have seen it happening) where the newer buses have to take two or three bites at turning a corner.

      I have some sympathy with CTPlus, because getting narrow bodied buses is very difficult these days - the real long-term answer is that Jersey needs another General Don to fix the roads. But in the interim, things like the occasional scrape or broken wing mirror are inevitable, and CTPlus have to accept it.

      In response to the other point, CTPlus hadn't done enough research to get the bus service running properly - much as was the case with Connex in 2002 - and we are suffering for it. Whether you lay the blame at their door, or TTS's, or the Union's (Unite are not blameless) is very much up for debate.