West Mids National Express bus strike back on

Firm accused of ‘interference in Unite’s democratic processes’ by refusing to allow vote on latest offer

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All out indefinite strike action impacting 93 per cent of the West Midlands bus network by 3,100 National Express drivers will begin on Monday (March 20).

Strikes are back on after National Express refused to allow drivers to vote on its latest offer during meetings at their depots. The union was willing to put the offer to a vote, even though it is likely to be rejected because it ties workers into a three year pay deal.

Unite accused National Express of ‘union busting’ and believes the company’s refusal to allow a workplace ballot is an attack on union democracy.

National Express also insisted Unite endorse the deal. After the union refused to, the company demanded the union remain neutral.

This attempt to force the union into a position contrary to its members’ opinion is a further example of union busting.

Unite has recommended members reject the deal because it has ‘more strings attached than a grand piano’. The problems with the deal were so apparent that National Express, after the company received ‘significant feedback from drivers’, wrote to Unite saying it would be willing to ‘adjust our offer’. However, the company’s continued attempts to subvert the collective bargaining process has severely eroded the trust of the members and caused the dispute to escalate.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “Unite stands shoulder-to-shoulder with our members at National Express – attempts at union busting by the company will not change that. They will receive Unite’s complete and utter support during these strikes for a fair pay rise.”

National Express’ refusal to allow the vote and split the union from its members is the latest in a series of attempts by the company to undermine a 93 per cent vote for industrial action by drivers to break the strike and force a dictated pay deal.

As well as preventing a depot-based vote on the deal, National Express stands accused of:

· Dragging individuals into one-to-one meetings to brow beat them into not taking strike action

· Sending text messages demanding to know if workers are striking

· Threatening job losses and garage closures if industrial action goes ahead

· Workers have also reported that they have been told they will be barred from overtime in the future if they strike.

Unite lead national officer Onay Kasab added, “Unite had agreed to put the offer to our members in a democratic vote. But National Express’ interference in our democratic processes, by refusing to allow a depot-based ballot, now mean that the offer cannot be voted on and action will go ahead on Monday. Moreover, the deal has more strings attached than a grand piano. If the company wants Unite to recommend a deal, then it needs to table an offer we know our members will accept. The company can more than afford to do that.”

Between 2018 and 2021, average pay at National Express for West Midlands’ bus workers fell by six per cent in real terms with the gap increasing even further in 2022, because of rocketing prices. Meanwhile, over the last 10 years, National Express paid its CEO an average annual salary of £2.6 million. Earlier this month, the company boasted to the Stock Exchange that last year revenues increased 29 per cent to £2.8 billion, with operating profits more than doubling to almost £200 million.

A National Express bus driver’s starting salary begins at just £11.80 an hour, progressing to just over £14 after three years of service. Meanwhile Abellio workers in London are paid £18 an hour after two years of service, which more closely reflects the difficulties and pressures that come with the job.

By Ryan Fletcher