‘We want the services we had all those years ago; children deserve it’

editorial image

A climate of cuts, increasing trends towards privatisation, stagnant wages and worker frustration.

These, for Unite trade unionist, Ciaran McCallion, are the main issues of the day.

Ciaran knows only too well the issues on the ground having spent almost two decades as a ‘yellow bus’ driver in Derry, ferrying children and young people with learning disabilites to and from their schools.

Now a convener with ‘Unite,’ Rosemount man Ciaran says he’s determined to defend services like this at every turn.

“I was a bus driver for 18 years working with children and young people with special needs,” he said.

“I know every aspect of the job and what it entails and it breaks my heart sometimes to see that services have been taken away from children with special needs because they depend on the extra trips that they used to get during the day when there were more services available.

“It was simple things that made the biggest difference. Things like having the bus available during the day to take the young people out and get them familiar with places; the very process of getting them used to going to the shop and learning how to go around a supermarket. When these buses were available to take these children it made the biggest difference. It meant that they were able to go out with their families at the weekend and it wouldn’t be such a shock to them. Our buses used to do all that. With the budget restraints in terms of transport the most vulnerable children we have in our society have been hit again.

“If I could take a politician for the day to sit on a bus and see what those children go through. This fighting about other stuff is ridiculous. These services really matter,” adds Ciaran.

Representing bus drivers, classroom assistants, and escorts, and caretakers, Rosemount man Ciaran deals with a wide range of issues daily, and his work takes him from Derry to Belfast, and everywhere in between in a job which, he says, is busier than ever,

“We have less schools, less teaching assistants, less bus drivers. Once again it comes down to pounds and pence. We had awful years here during the Troubles, but sometimes it feels as if we didn’t have to fight for these things as much then, as if we had more for those who needed it most.

“For example we had better bus services, parents knew the drivers, we knew each child that was collected from each house. We built up a sense of security for parents, nowadays, a private operator can’t put that into practice.

It’s my job to defend the services that we have now, and to fight any other cuts that come. We want the same services we had all those years ago. We’re talking about people’s livelihoods here, too.

“Wages are an ongoing issue. Our drivers are on £9.40 an hour, Translink drivers are on £11 per hour. There’s poor wages and a lack of security in jobs, The work is there but we seem to be losing more and more through budget restraints to private operators. Our hours are geting reduced. Overtime is gone. We don’t do afterschool runs, that’s gone to private operators.

“The morale amongst all workers in EA has hit rock bottom. The support isn’t there. The mechanism’s not there to try and get them a better wage. We’re not looking for the world. Without the government in place we can’t put our proposals forward.

“I intend to lobby the Education Minister on the steps of Stormont to tell them that enough is enough. We’re not standing for it any more. We’re not looking for the world but without a government in place we can’t put our proposals forward.”

Ciaran said he also intends to tackle mental health issues among workers with a worrying increase in people presenting with problems.

“The welfare of drivers is a major issue. We need counsellors, and we need to make sure that our workers are supported. I would like shop stewards to be trained in suicide awareness. I think that’s something that could make a big difference to our workers on the ground and it’s something we need to start looking at, along with everything else,” he concluded.