'Go North East - just pay us what we're worth'

Unite member and Go North East bus driver Mike speaks out as all-out strike action looms

Reading time: 6 min

More than 1,300 Go North East bus workers have taken two weeks of strike action ending today (October 20) over fair pay and conditions. But their fight is only beginning – as management continues to dig its heels in, the bus workers will now embark on all-out continuous strike action from next Friday (October 28).

The striking workers are under pressure like never before – their run times have been slashed to the bone, they’re forced to work late with no extra pay, and the vehicles they operate are old and falling apart. For all that they’re forced to deal with, they’re paid 20% less than their counterparts in Manchester who do the exact same job for the same company. It’s no wonder they’ve had enough.

As the first two-week strike action ends and all-out continuous strike action looms, UniteLive hears from bus driver Mike* who is at the heart of this struggle.

I’ve worked for Go North East for two years, but I’ve been a bus driver for over 20. I really enjoy being a bus driver – it’s not an easy job but I love doing it. The people you meet on the job – both passengers and colleagues — are great people. 

But I’ve never felt that I didn’t want to work for a company, until now that is. They’ve put us under so much pressure – and then to know that people who are doing the same job as me in a similar city are getting paid so much more is really disheartening.

In the two previous companies I worked for, I really felt they looked after us. I’m nearly 60 now, and when I started with Go North East, I thought it would be the same — that they’d look after me. But now I just feel left behind. It’s an awful feeling too to learn of the millions of pounds the company is making in profits when they pay us so little. The company doesn’t appreciate how much we put into the job, which is incredibly stressful from the moment you start.

When you get in in the morning, the first thing you do is check your bus. Invariably there’s a mechanical problem with the bus, and then that problem becomes your problem, even though we’ve reported that very same problem to management numerous times – but it’s never fixed.

At the moment, the main route I work on – called a run — is two hours long. Within that run, they give us 10 minutes to get from point A to point B, but in reality, it takes at least 15 minutes. You have to start by checking your bus, which takes up at least four minutes of your allotted time, so from the very beginning of the day you’re running around like a headless chicken.

It’s unfair on us, and it’s also very unsafe for drivers and passengers alike. I’ve got an excellent driving record – I haven’t had any incidents in over ten years – but more and more now, I feel like I’m forced to take risks that make me uncomfortable because of the time pressures we’re under. We really shouldn’t be rushing with a vehicle as big as a bus.

In my 20 years of working as a bus driver, I’m actually earning less now than I ever did with Go North East. I’m struggling to pay my rent, to pay my council tax, to pay for the upkeep of my car that enables me to get to work in the first place. I’ve maxed out three credit cards, and I can’t pay for fuel so I’ve had to walk five miles to get to the picket line.

I have to work seven days a week just to try to make ends meet. Two of those days are overtime, but after tax, it’s pointless doing overtime – I’m not any better off. For those two days working overtime, I take home less than a day’s wage.  

I have an adult son who is autistic and lives at home permanently. People say that must be hard but it isn’t – it’s one of my life’s greatest pleasures having him. But it does mean I’ve got another adult in the house that I’ve got to pay for. It just adds to the financial pressure.

I wish that Go North East management would come to the table and see sense. We’re not looking for a fortune – we just want them to pay us what we are worth.

Taking strike action wasn’t easy but I’ve got so much great feedback from members of the public over the last two weeks. Yes, they’re upset that we can’t get them to work or to their doctor’s appointments, but they understand why we have to strike. People stop me in the street, and they ask me about the strike and how I’m doing. It’s been really uplifting and it keeps me going. It’s inspired me to hold out until we get what we deserve.

*Name changed to protect identity

  • As told to Hajera Blagg