First West of England and Bristol Airport reach ‘unique’ agreement to save drivers’ jobs

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Bus drivers’ jobs have been protected following talks between Bristol Airport and First West of England. This comes as airport bus services are reduced due to a significant drop in demand for air travel, during the coronavirus outbreak.

The arrangement, facilitated by Unite the Union, will see almost 70 drivers across external and internal airport bus routes reallocated to operate on First Bus services in Bristol.

Following what’s described as a ‘unique’ agreement with Bristol Airport, First West of England will temporarily employ 25 airport drivers, who usually operate the internal shuttle buses to and from the airport car parks.

The contract will run until spring 2021, when demand for air travel is expected to increase and the drivers will return to work on their airport duties once again.

Bus drivers who operate the Airport Flyer services have also been able to transfer across to driving other bus routes in Bristol and Weston-super-Mare, following the announcement that the A1 (Bristol Bus Station – Bristol Airport) and A3 (Weston-super-Mare – Bristol Airport) are expected to be suspended until January 2021.

With this move, First West of England aims to ensure the drivers can continue to work, whilst providing support on busier routes across the region, as more people start to use public transport again following the Government’s easing of the lockdown restrictions.

James Freeman, Managing Director at First West of England said: “By working with Bristol Airport and Unite the Union, we’re really pleased to have been able to find alternative positions for a total of almost 70 bus drivers, who in normal times would operate airport dedicated services only. By working together, we have been able to keep people working and ensure that local bus services will operate reliably.

“As a bus operator, our challenge has been to transform our services quickly in response to the coronavirus outbreak. This partnership with Bristol Airport enables us to redeploy drivers to where they are needed most, to provide additional support and flexibility as we get our services back up and moving again safely for the region.”

Brett Sparkes, South West Regional Officer at Unite the Union said: “We are delighted to have worked alongside Bristol Airport and First Bus to ensure that our members livelihoods’ are secured.

“This agreement will ensure that, in an extremely worrying time for the aviation sector, these workers can be certain that they will remain in employment. Once again it shows that working with Unite can deliver the best results for the employers, the general public and the workers.”

Debbie Hartshorn, People Director at Bristol Airport said: “It is a difficult time for the aviation industry and Bristol Airport, along with all businesses in the aviation, aerospace and travel sectors, has been badly hit by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe it will take at least three years to achieve recovery to 2019 passenger numbers.

“Working in collaboration with First and Unite the Union we are pleased that our bus drivers are able to be temporarily seconded to assist First providing vital public transport services and thereby mitigating job losses.”

Bus services will continue to operate for customers flying via Bristol Airport; the airport car park shuttle service will run on a reduced timetable, whilst customers travelling to and from the airport can use First West of England’s regular A2 route, which runs between the City Centre, Temple Meads Station, Bedminster and Bristol Airport.