Arriva took over the Maltese bus network on Sunday, but were immediately plunged into chaos by an unofficial strike of at least 60 drivers. The drivers expressed their fury that despite signing an agreement to work a straight eight-hour shift, they were presented with a roster that includes split shifts running from 11am to 11.30pm with a four-hour break in between.
Many drivers refused to work the proposed shifts in spite of an agreement reached between the General Workers’ Union (GWU), which represents 480 bus drivers, and Arriva. Without the backing of their union, bus drivers congregated at 5am on Sunday, to try and stop the new fleet from taking off.
Twanny Cassar, who was chosen by those present to speak on their behalf, insisted the GWU had failed to inform them of the agreement reached with Arriva and it had forged ahead without consulting them, something the union denies. Mr Cassar said the only way drivers would agree to work a split shift was if they were paid €350 a week and not the paltry €245 a week they were being offered. “We were told that if we don’t like it we can return our uniform and leave. But we will fight this and if not we will go and register (for work, at the unemployment office). We cannot stand by and be ridiculed,” he said to loud cheers from fellow drivers.
Transport Minister Austin Gatt was in bullish mood, telling the workers “The days when you dictated what happened in public transport are over... a new service [is starting] with new conditions. Those who don’t like these conditions can choose not to not turn up for work and I hope they will be fired,” he said.
Arriva Malta responded to the strike by flying in 55 British drivers to fill the gaps in its service. But they don't speak the language, and don't know the routes.
This report has been compiled from several sources, principally the Times of Malta: