Hundreds of bus drivers and support staff could go on strike over a pay row with a transport giant.
More than 800 drivers and engineers at Stagecoach North East are being balloted on strike and other industrial action, saying they have been offered a pay deal of less than 2%.
Stagecoach has depots in the North East at Newcastle, South Shields, Sunderland, Stockton and Hartlepool. It runs bus services in various parts of the region.
Now the newly-elected leader of the UK’s largest union has waded into the pay row, calling on Stagecoach to increase its pay offer after inflation rose above 4%.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Bosses at Stagecoach North East should know that Unite is ready for a relentless campaign if our 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 our members.”
Unite regional coordinating officer Mark Sanderson said: “We will not put up with management negotiating depot by depot in future. This has resulted in Unite members driving for Stagecoach in Newcastle being paid a higher hourly rate than those working at South Shields and Sunderland. Teesside drivers are paid less than all the other drivers in Stagecoach North East.
“However, this is the same company, the same managing director, the same regional pot of money, the same job. Other firms in the North East, such as Arriva and Go North East, have seen fit to offer more than Stagecoach’s miserly 2%, which is made to look even more pathetic with the latest RPI inflation figure soaring to 4.8%.
“We are seeking a substantial pay uplift across all the Stagecoach North East sites in recognition of our members’ hard work as key workers during the pandemic and the current rising cost of living.
“We apologise to the travelling public, who use these services, for any disruption this action will cause, but the reason for the disruption lies firmly with Stagecoach management. We are available for regional pay discussions should the management wish to resolve this dispute.”
Like all public transport companies, Stagecoach has seen passenger numbers fall during the pandemic, suffering a financial hit. This week it announced that it was in talks with rival National Express over a merger.
A Stagecoach North East spokesperson said: “Local people who depend on buses to get to work and access public services, as well as local businesses struggling to recover from the pandemic, will be extremely angry at the threat of completely 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 Unite, we have made a good offer to deliver further improvements in pay and conditions, which would result in their pay increasing by 4% since the start of the pandemic. This is in line with other bus operators in the region and reflects inflation over the period.
“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 no remain sustainable.
“We very much remain open to continuing discussions with the union and would urge them to return to talks.”