Bus drivers have called a strike on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Stagecoach drivers based at Worthing plan to walk out on Saturday from midnight to noon in protest at a pay settlement.

But the company vowed to keep services going by drafting in non-union drivers.

Transport and General Workers' Union branch secretary Paul Cowell said drivers had asked for £7.50 an hour, a 32p increase, but Stagecoach had imposed a £7 limit.

Mr Cowell said about 80 members were affected and they would be setting up picket lines outside the depot next to the Dome cinema in Marine Parade.

He said a further strike was planned for January 5, but Stagecoach warned them: "There is no more money in the pot."

Mr Cowell said drivers were also upset about a £10 a week attendance allowance which would be withheld if a person went on holiday or called in sick.

He said four secret ballots had been held at the depot and more than 84 per cent of members were in favour of a strike.

There were eight non-union drivers at the depot and two had told him they would not be crossing the picket line.

Mr Cowell said: "We are not satisfied with what they are paying us. It has taken us six months to get to this point."

Phil Medlicott, operations manager for Stagecoach, said: "Basically, this year they have been offered just over 8.2 per cent, which we consider to be an extremely good offer. Linked to that is a guaranteed increase in 12 months' time.

He pledged all services would be running on Saturday, with buses driven by managers and non-union drivers.

Mr Medlicott said: "I think they have chosen the busiest weekend possible for the strike, which will give them their biggest impact.

"But we have a list of drivers prepared to work. We shall obviously ensure we operate a full service as far as our customers are concerned.

"We have been talking with the union since August but as far as the actual amount of money Stagecoach can offer, that is basically their lot. We have no more in the pot."

Mr Cowell said Stagecoach had warned drivers on strike that they would not be allowed to resume work for the afternoon shift after the noon deadline.

But Mr Medlicott said only drivers who were due to start work in the morning would not be allowed to get back behind the wheel.

He said: "We have some drivers whose shifts start after 12 o'clock and, of course, they will be allowed to come in but we have brought people in to cover those who are supposed to start work in the morning."

Thursday December 11, 2003