Published: 16:45, 05 May 2021
| Updated: 18:35, 05 May 2021
Arriva staff are being balloted on strike action after the bus firm announced its plan to close one of its town centre depots.
Last month, Arriva said it was looking to close the Sheerness hub and had told Kent County Council of its intention to axe its Island-only routes this summer, putting 34 jobs at risk.
Unite union, which represents thousands of bus drivers, is now calling on Arriva to reverse the decision and is considering taking industrial action over it.
Unite said Arriva claimed the closure was due to high staff sickness rates, which were causing lost mileage and overall losses.
But, the union believes that the problem had been caused by "lazy local management" when the Sheerness station was under the control of the Maidstone depot.
Drivers proposed changes to routes to improve profitability but were ignored by management, it said, and improvements only started when control of the depot was transferred back to the Gillingham depot.
If the closure of the Sheerness hub goes ahead, it will leave 34 Arriva staff at risk of losing their jobs.
Unite said that while workers were being offered employment at other depots, these jobs would be untenable for most drivers for a variety of reasons including the distance to travel and the additional costs incurred, the lack of a car and shift timings.
Closing Sheerness would also affect the operation of the Maidstone and Gillingham depots, it said, and a consultative ballot for industrial action is being held at all three depots.
Dave Weeks, Unite's regional officer, said: “Arriva’s decision to close Sheerness is short-sighted and is bad news for local residents, bus drivers and the environment.
“Unite is calling on Arriva to reverse this decision and to work with the union to improve the profitability of the Sheerness depot.
“If the company is not prepared to reverse this misguided decision then industrial action could be taken as a last resort, which will inevitably cause further disruption to services.”
Residents had been faced with the prospect of losing services to schools, shops and the Island's community hospital following Arriva's announcement, so KentOnline's sister paper the Sheerness Times Guardian launched a Save Our Services campaign.
Upon learning of the cuts from the newspaper, just days later Sittingbourne bus and coach operator Chalkwell agreed to replace two services operated by the company.
Chalkwell will take over the 360 and 361 routes, which link Leysdown, Eastchurch, Minster, Queenborough, Rushenden and Sheerness, on Monday, July 12.
But there has been no announcement about the 367 service, which runs from Sheerness to Warden Point, and which Arriva also announced it was giving up.