Flexible working for drivers: Deliver it if you promise it

Flexible working for drivers must be delivered if promised

It is clear that one of the legacies of the COVID-19 pandemic is the significantly increased desire for flexible working, especially among office staff who perhaps don’t need to be at their physical place of work in order to be productive.

What about bus drivers, though? It is painfully difficult to attract and retain good calibre drivers, especially given that the pay rate for PSV work generally sits well below that for HGV work (and certainly for C+E work).

For bus operators running services seven days per week and anywhere between 12 and 24 hours a day, the position of driver often involves lates, earlies, middles, weekends, Bank Holidays and plenty more aside, all of which often makes it an unpopular employment consideration with staff members’ associated families.

A huge proportion of drivers would love to work permanent earlies, and of course an even larger proportion would like to work Monday to Friday. There is a pool of drivers who really enjoy permanent lates, and there are those for whom weekend work suits their lifestyle very nicely. However, the number of people who fall into those categories is miniscule in comparison to the wider workforce.

Surely, then, through necessity, bus driver roles must be fast becoming the most flexible that they have ever been?

Four-day weeks are very popular with many drivers, given that they can do the same weekly hours but over four long shifts rather than five ‘normal’ days. For those that need heavy overtime, a four-day rota gives the possibility of working a rest day while still taking two others to spend time with families, attend appointments, do the weekly shop, etc.

I wonder how many four-day rotas have been announced at depots where the number of applicants immediately far exceeds the number of rota lines available?

Fixed lines are a helpful way of covering unpopular duties with willing drivers, in return for a ‘trade off’. For example, an operator may agree to rota a driver as off every Sunday and Monday in return for them working the same late shift every Saturday. The operator can remove an unpopular late shift from the wider rota, and the fixed driver now has every Sunday and Monday off as requested.

It is unusual – but great – to see so many adverts for bus drivers now including words like ‘flexible’, ‘family friendly’ and ‘choices’. It is not easy to make bus driving family friendly, but a real effort is now being made by so many operators. Historically, there have not been too many trade union or workplace council catch-ups where rotas and/or duties don’t feature in the list of urgently requested improvements.

However, it is also interesting to watch what happens when employers promise desirable conditions but do not deliver. A bus operator recently lost four drivers within the space of two weeks to a supermarket delivery service on the promise of having every Saturday off and no finishes after 1900hrs.

Less than a month later, three of the four had applied to re-join the bus company because the supermarket had repeatedly failed to meet the promises contained within its attractive advert. A good example of what happens when employers don’t ‘keep it real’…