Bus drivers in Hemel are ‘living in cramped conditions and can’t speak basic English’

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Bus drivers recruited from Romania are living in cramped conditions and paying overinflated prices for accommodation, claims one former worker.

Carmen Stroe, 52, from Galati in Romania, says several fellow drivers did not have a basic grasp of the English language and had to rely on bus passengers to tell them which routes to take.

Carmen Stroe

Carmen Stroe

Ms Stroe, who first came to work for Arriva in Hemel Hempstead in May, was let go last week while still in her probation period.

But the firm – which has a depot in Whiteleaf Road – has refuted Ms Stroe’s claims, saying they would not employ drivers without knowledge of the language, and that they in fact subsidise the Romanian drivers’ living costs.

Ms Stroe, who has more than seven years’ experience as a bus driver in her home country, said: “We have one bathroom between seven of us so the mornings can be difficult

“I was so happy to come here – I wanted to know about England. I love it here, and I love the people.

“I feel like Arriva did not give me a chance.”

Ms Stroe was one of 17 Romanians brought over to the UK by Arriva following a selection process through an agency, as well as a follow-up Skype interview.

She claims she and her colleagues were told they would learn just one route each in Hemel Hempstead, but on arrival found the training sessions were for all 11 routes in the town. Arriva denied this, with a spokesman saying: “This was never the case – all our initial conversations on Skype were to some extent scripted.

“It was made clear that they would be trained for multiple routes and a good level of English was therefore required.

“We made it clear that there were a number of routes that we needed drivers to know.”

Talking about the living conditions, Ms Stroe says she and six others were sharing a three-bedroom house in Adeyfield Road with one bathroom and a 5kg washing machine between them.

This set-up could be deemed as overcrowding as, according to housing charity Shelter, each single adult over the age of 21 should have a separate room to sleep in.

Ms Stroe said there were two to each bedroom and one person sleeping on the sofa in the communal area.

However, Arriva say there were only six drivers living in the property and the living arrangements were made clear in the individual Skype interviews.

Ms Stroe and her colleagues, who get paid weekly, each pay £100 per week to Arriva towards their living costs.

The grandmother – who has a 25-year-old daughter and a five-year-old granddaughter living in Romania – says after paying Arriva each week, she kept £50-£70 for herself to live on before sending the rest home to her family.

Talking about the cost of renting, a spokesman for Arriva said: “The £100 per week is absolutely correct but we hire houses through a property agent who covers off the legal aspects on our behalf.

“The cost of housing our Romanian colleagues is in excess of £2,500 per month since we pay for all utilities including wi-fi, beds and bed linen, council tax.

“The only thing we do not pay for is food. This house therefore paid £2,400 per month since there were six people in total, but we pay a minimum of £2,500 for everything to keep the house for a minimum of six months – this obviously varies according to the use of utilities.

“We do not sub-let – we just take a contribution towards the total which also helps show commitment to us on the drivers’ behalf.

“The vast majority are happy with this especially against the cost of renting privately themselves.”

Fighting back tears, Ms Stroe told The Gazette: “I am very sad. I came here to make a better life for my family and I don’t want to go home.

“But I have had a bad experience and I am worried that it might happen to someone else.”

Ms Stroe has now returned to Romania and states that another of her former colleagues will do the same shortly.

A spokesman for Arriva said: “Ms Stroe started on probation initially, as we do with all new drivers, which means that during this period we train, acclimatise and assess our new recruits.

“In Ms Stroe’s case she did come to the depot to take part in the acclimatisation training but did not attend the classes, meaning that she could not pass the test that we perform on route knowledge etc, potentially putting our customers at risk. She was making no progress as a result, essentially.”

Arriva runs 11 services in and around Hemel Hempstead, including ML1 to Maylands, route 2 through Highfield and Woodhall Farm, route 3 around Warners End, Chaulden and Gadebridge, route 4 around Grovehill, the 500 route between Watford to Aylesbury, the 320 to Rickmansworth, the 300 to Stevenage plus several school services.