Striking bus drivers urged to minimise impact on vulnerable pupils

The Education Authority (EA) has called on the Unite union to work with the authority to minimise the impact of the planned bus drivers’ strikes on the most vulnerable pupils.

Parents are being advised to monitor Translink’s and the EA’s social media for updates – but also to make “plans for alternative transport arrangements,” in the meantime.

An EA spokesperson said they have been notified of further strike action by Unite from 26 April to May 1, and also from May 3 to May 8, with expected disruption to some education services, particularly EA home to school transport (yellow bus) services.

“In addition, we have been notified by Translink that their GMB and Unite bus drivers have voted to take strike action. This action would result in all Translink bus services, including school services, being withdrawn from April 25 to May 1 and on [for one day] on May 6.

School bus. Pacemaker

“This strike action is in relation to a national pay offer for Local Government staff working in England, Wales and Northern Ireland which has been accepted by the majority of Trade Unions and is in the process of being paid to staff. Therefore, Local Government organisations, including EA, do not have the power or authority to renegotiate this for Northern Ireland,” the spokesperson said.

“Parents are urged to follow EA and Translink’s social media channels and websites and start making plans for alternative transport arrangements.

“If your child connects from an EA bus to a Translink service you should also make alterative arrangements for the whole of their journey during the Translink period of strike action.

“We remain very concerned about the disproportionate impact both sets of industrial action will have on pupils, schools and families and we will continue to do all we can to minimise disruption as far as possible.

“We would also call on Unite to work with us to agree exemptions to minimise the impact on the most vulnerable pupils, including those attending Special Schools.”

The EA spokesperson added: “National negotiations are due to commence on the 22/23 Pay Award and we would encourage Unite to join their Trade Union colleagues to engage constructively on this.

“Additionally, we will continue to engage collectively with all of our Trade Unions on local issues impacting on pay terms and conditions.

“For updates on how EA services are impacted by industrial action parents can visit our website www.eani.org.uk/industrialactionupdates and our social media channels.”

Meanwhile, hopes of averting the strike by Translink bus drivers suffered a setback on Monday when talks between the unions and Translink management broke down without progress.

Davy Thompson of the Unite union said Monday’s talks did nothing to halt the week-long strike planned to begin on April 25.

“We had a brief meeting this morning, in terms of both sides setting out their positions, but it broke down after an hour or so,” Mr Thompson said.

A Translink spokesperson had described their pay offer as a “fair and reasonable” one.

“We would welcome the opportunity to engage with unions to cover school duties, so that the wellbeing of schoolchildren can remain a priority. We will communicate relevant passenger information through the media, on our website www.translink.co.uk, through social media, in stations and on buses and trains,” they said.

Alliance Assembly election candidate Kellie Armstrong has called on both the education minister and the Education Authority to “urgently update parents on how pupils will be transported to schools” during the strike.

She said: “They need to know arrangements as soon as possible, as otherwise they will have to source childcare or take holidays from their own place of work.

“If a number of buses do not operate later this month due to the strike, questions remain – will pupils be treated as absent if they can’t attend? Will there be any consideration given relating to lost learning time if they are due to sit exams soon?

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “Discussions are ongoing between the Department and EA on the potential impact of industrial action by Translink employees on school transport.”