Bus strike during Cheltenham Festival looms

Stagecoach bus drivers in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire to strike during Cheltenham Festival in low pay dispute

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Over 380 bus drivers employed by Stagecoach West and based throughout Gloucestershire and Wiltshire have announced a month long strike in a dispute over chronic low pay.

Strike action, which was backed overwhelmingly by the drivers who are members of Unite the union, will begin on Thursday, March 10 and continue until Saturday, April 9, coinciding with the Cheltenham Festival. The strike is set to cause considerable disruption to the event as Stagecoach has the contract to take festival goers to and from the racecourse.

With many drivers paid under £11 per hour, Unite has been pressing for an increase in line with real inflation, currently at 7.8 per cent. However, Stagecoach has tabled offers that are in effect pay cuts.

It is the first time ever that the drivers have voted for industrial action.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “Unite has given Stagecoach West every opportunity to make a fair pay offer to avoid strike action but it has failed to do so.

“Our members at Stagecoach West have made it very clear that they will accept nothing less than a significant pay rise and they have Unite’s full support in this fight,” she added. “Stagecoach has to get real – it’s time to table a serious offer.”

The strike action will affect all of Stagecoach West’s service operating from the Bristol, Cheltenham, Coalway, Gloucester, Stroud, and Swindon depots.

Following the initial ballot, Unite paused announcing industrial action for a fortnight to give the management at Stagecoach West the opportunity to reflect on the overwhelming votes in favour of strike action and to make a vastly improved pay offer. The company failed to grasp this opportunity to avoid strike action.

Stagecoach West’s parent company is extremely profitable. Notwithstanding the Covid-19 pandemic, its accounts reveal that the group made a profit of £58.4 million and it has £875 million of available liquidity.

Unite regional officer Shevaun Hunt said, “Our members are taking strike action as a last resort because Stagecoach has refused to listen. Industrial action will inevitably cause severe disruption to passengers throughout Gloucestershire and Wiltshire and especially during the Cheltenham Festival.

“Even now strike action could be avoided if Stagecoach West was prepared to return to the negotiating table and make an offer which meets the drivers’ expectations.”

There is a growing shortage of bus drivers throughout the UK. A survey of Unite members revealed that 99 per cent of depots had shortages and that low pay was identified as the primary reason for workers leaving the profession.

By Barckley Sumner

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