SOME 23'000 public bus service users in Palma were hit hard yesterday morning by the first of five days of industrial action planned by the Works Committee of the municipal bus service company, EMT.

But although union representatives claimed that there was a 50 percent minimum service in operation between 5am and 8am, EMT Managing Director Fuensanta Paris angrily referred to the drivers as “irresponsible.” Out of the 85 buses which should have left the depot during that time, she said, only two left which meant that children trying to get to school and people needing to reach their place of work were badly affected.

Fuensanta said that it is a national law that during a period of strike action, respect must be given to minimum services agreements, in this case between the Works Committee of EMT and Palma City Council.

She accused the drivers of failing to adhere to the minimum meaning that by 9am, there were no bus services at all running in Palma. Fuensanta said that although transport was up and running again by 9.30am, it had been the most vulnerable of people who had suffered the greatest damage.

The Managing Director gave a reminder that one of the reasons that the staff of EMT had gone on strike - not just drivers but administration staff and mechanics as well - was their claim that no adjustment had been made in their salaries for the cost of living index rise for the past two years. “It's impossible for management to make this adjustment,” said Paris. “The budget laws governing City Council spending simply don't allow us to do it at the drop of a hat, especially as EMT is a publicly-run company receiving municipal financial backing.” “And now the workers are wanting an extra five working days holiday in lieu of payment, and that's not a sufficient motive to mount such a damaging strike in such an essential public service,” she furthered.

Staff of EMT meanwhile hit back at the Managing Director, describing the minimum services laid down by the City Council as “abusive.” This, said a member of the Works Committee, Juan Antonio Salamanca, was the reason why the drivers had understood they were to remain at the depot between 5am and 8am.

Salamanca warned that there will be further stoppages today and on Monday 4th April, prior to two 24-hour stoppages in early May. “This industrial action is necessary,” he said, “to make the company, and by default the Council, adhere to an already-established collective bargaining agreement.” Salamanca alleged that working conditions needed to be improved - such as more night-time security and toilets en route - and the excessively long shifts that drivers were sometimes forced to work to be brought to an end. Contrary to declarations by Paris, Salamanca said that the City Council didn't agree any minimum services with the Works Committee.