On Friday drivers will be asked to vote on whether or not they will accept the loss of their paid lunch break. The Department of Community, Culture and Leisure says it needs to do away with the payment in order to save an urgent £300,000. But drivers say this could cost them in the region of £3,500 to £4,000 a year, equivalent to a 12 per cent pay cut. They say when the paid lunch break was introduced, they lost other areas of their pay and these would not be reinstated with the loss of paid lunch.
Eric Holmes of Unite said the payment should actually be referred to as a ‘shift disturbance allowance’ rather than a paid lunch break because over the years this right had been eroded and drivers had become unrecognised shift workers.
Last month Mr Holmes said a letter sent by Community, Culture and Leisure Minister Graham Cregeen to bus drivers could be used as evidence in an unfair dismissal tribunal. He said the letter was ‘very contentious and threatening’. Drivers believe the letter, which refers to negotiations over their contract, tells them their jobs are in jeopardy if they don’t sign up to new working conditions, including the loss of their paid lunch hour.