Drivers working for Greater Manchester’s bus giant Stagecoach are threatening to walk out in a dispute over pay.
More than a thousand drivers, members of Unite the union based at depots in Hyde Road, Sharston, Stockport and Ashton, are being balloted to strike.
Unite bosses have warned if drivers, who are on average paid £12.54 an hour, do vote to walk-out it would cause ‘severe disruption’ to passenger journeys.
Passengers need only look to the disruption caused by more than two months of strike action by Go North West drivers earlier this year to find truth in Unite’s warning.
Unite leaders claim that Stagecoach, which operates as Greater Manchester Bus Company South, is refusing to make a pay offer which ‘in anyway meets the aspirations of the drivers’.
Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said: “Bosses at Stagecoach should know that Unite is ready for a relentless campaign if our Manchester members vote for strike action.
“Unite members all over the UK are voting for industrial action right now over Stagecoach’s ‘penny pinching’ on pay. Stagecoach’s board should be in no doubt that Unite is now wholly dedicated to advancing the jobs, pay and conditions of its members.”
Union leaders say the failure to meet an agreement with Stagecoach despite ‘extensive’ negotiations has left workers, who continued to work throughout the pandemic to ensure that key workers could get to work, ‘infuriated’.
The ballot for strike action opens on September 28 and closes on October 12. If members vote for industrial action then strikes could begin later this autumn.
In addition to a pay increase workers are also seeking an improvement in sick pay to allow workers to self-isolate when necessary.
Unite regional officer Dave Roberts said: “Strike action will cause huge disruption to passengers across Greater Manchester.
“Bus workers were rightly hailed as heroes during successive lockdowns. However, warm words do not pay the bills and Stagecoach needs to reward its workers’ dedication with a decent pay award.
“Stagecoach still has the time to resolve this dispute by returning to the negotiating table and making a decent offer.”
The company operates routes which go as far as Wigan, Oldham and Rochdale. Stagecoach is the largest bus operator in Greater Manchester.
In March, Greater Manchester’s buses were brought back under public control under a franchise system which should be fully in place by 2023.
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In response to the threat of strike action, a Stagecoach Manchester spokesperson said: “We believe that our local communities who depend on buses to get to work and access public services, as well as local businesses struggling to recover from the pandemic, won’t be able to understand this threat of unnecessary disruption to their bus services. The focus should be on protecting both the jobs of our people and the long-term sustainability of services for the local community.
“We are committed to offering good packages for our people. Contrary to the misleading impression given by the union, we have made a good offer to deliver further improvements in pay and conditions in Manchester that exceeded Unite’s aspirations. In addition, the Unite Pay Committee went to their members with a strong recommendation to accept this offer.
“The reality is that Covid-19 has resulted in bus passenger numbers being only 70% of pre-pandemic levels. Passenger fares are significantly short of what is needed just to even cover the day-to-day costs of running services. As a result, services being run by all bus operators require support from the government. Any changes to pay and conditions have to reflect the local economic conditions, the varying costs of running services and the level of passenger journeys if the bus network is to remain sustainable.
“We very much remain open to continuing discussions with the union and would urge them to return to talks.”