One thousand bus workers at First Bus in Leeds took strike action today (June 13) in support of a pay claim that would properly reward them for their efforts in making the company a profitable one.
The action started at 2.01am and by sunrise there were lively picket lines at the Bramley and Hunslet Park depots where the workers, members of the Unite NE302/36 branch, are based.
“We hope to persuade anyone considering going to work to stay at home,” explained Unite branch secretary Andy Dyer. “And we want to demonstrate to management that their measly offer of an extra 16 pence an hour from June 5 and a further 20 pence in January next year remains unacceptable.”
The bus workers argue that the pay deal is especially unacceptable given that First Bus Leeds has posted an £11m profit in 2015/16.
This equates to over £10,000 profit annually from each employee, who are therefore understandably angry at being paid around £2 an hour less than their colleagues at other nearby West Yorkshire First Bus operations.
To add to the frustration, First Bus Leeds, which operates 65 bus routes, or around 90 per cent of bus services in Leeds, is also cutting 45 conductors jobs by scrapping ‘bendy’ buses and replacing them with double decker driver-only buses.
This will save First Bus around £1m, some of which has already been re-allocated to senior managers in the form of a 5 per cent leap in pay and bonuses. In comparison, Unite has so far been unable to get First Bus to commit to an enhanced redundancy package for those conductors who cannot be found other jobs within the company.
“I first asked last year about negotiating a pay deal that should start on May 1 and had to remind the company by email in February,” Dyer explained. “There was then long gaps between meetings. We want 36 pence an hour extra but the company offer equates to just 22 pence an hour over the whole year.”
When 75 per cent of Unite members participated in a ballot for action, including a strike, over 93 per cent were in favour.
On Wednesday last week, Unite attempted to resolve the dispute when they attended the conciliatory service ACAS only to be left disappointed.
“First Bus did not really want to negotiate with us,” said Unite regional officer for passenger transport Phil Bown.
A quickly organised and very well-attended branch meeting confirmed that Unite members were willing to go on strike.
“Only one person was happy to accept the deal and members reluctantly agreed to take action unless management came back to us before today. I was available all weekend but heard nothing,” said Bown.
The result was that in Leeds today, First Bus was only able to run a handful of buses at some considerable cost to the company after they bused in managers and supervisors from their other operating companies across the UK and housed them in hotels overnight.
“I am very disappointed at having to be on strike,” said Unite NE/302/36 branch chair Chris Linsell. “But we work hard and deserve a share of the profits. Yet the company is intent on ignoring us. I hope they see sense and properly negotiate with us as I don’t want this dispute to drag on.”