Hundreds of Preston bus drivers to strike over pay

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Hundreds of Lancashire bus drivers are to go on strike this weekend after pay talks broke down.

The Stagecoach drivers - who operate from Preston and Chorley bus stations - will take action on Saturday.

The Unite trade union they belong to have been locked in talks with Stagecoach management for weeks.

But after a meeting on Tuesday, the two sides failed to arrive at an agreement and strike action will now begin, said Unite.

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Some 300 drivers are said to be involved in the dispute. Regional industrial organiser at Unite, John Boughton, confirmed that a series of one day strikes, starting this Saturday, May 11, are to commence.

That day’s action will be followed by further strikes on Tuesday, May 14, Saturday, May 25, Tuesday, May 28, Friday, May 31 and Saturday, June 1.

“That will be a full day stoppage involving all drivers, that will be Preston and Chorley,” said Mr Boughton.

“The negotiations broke up with no other offer from the company and as a consequence the strike action on Saturday will take place.”

Stagecoach said it was drafting in extra drivers to help minimise disruption. Bosses said they were “disappointed” over the industrial action.

Mr Boughton said the drivers were seeking a 50p pay rise from £10.50 an hour to £11 - an increase of about 4.8 per cent.

The drivers are part of a group of Stagecoach drivers that incorporates South Lancashire and Merseyside.

“The drivers at Preston are the poor relations in terms of pay,” said Mr Boughton.

“They’re getting, in some instances, almost £1 less than colleagues elsewhere within the Stagecoach family - there’s only one bus company within Lancashire that big where they pay less than Stagecoach.

“Our members are fed up with being the poor relations. This company make good profits within Preston and Chorley.”

Mr Boughton claimed much smaller bus companies than Stagecoach - a national operator based in Perth, Scotland - pay better than the drivers in question are getting paid.

He said “nearly 300 drivers” were involved in the dispute, adding; “What the company will do, Stagecoach will try and run services within the city. They will bus in people from all over the country and try to break the strike.

“Our drivers have been told if they do strike, they will lose all their back pay.”

The drivers were balloted for strike action by their union in March.

When the result was announced in April, it was discovered that they were overwhelmingly in favour - 98 per cent - of taking strike action.

Mr Boughton said Stagecoach were a very profitable company and that the union’s request was not an unreasonable one.

“If some other company made the returns they (Stagecoach) were making they would be running round that bus station,” he said.

He said the union wanted the drivers to be treated “fair and equitably with other colleagues that work within this Stagecoach company they work for”.

“We as a trade union are open to talks at any time if they want to come back round the table,” said Mr Boughton.

“The indication was that our members’ aspirations were too great and we were too far away.

“As a trade union we understand this is going to cause disruption and we apologise for that - our members are not taking that decision lightly. It is the only way they can show their anger to the company by withdrawing their labour.

*Services that are believed to be affected by the strike action will include the Preston to Bolton service; Preston to St Annes and Blackpool; and Preston to Liverpool.

Stagecoach said it would continue to operate services on the majority of routes during the planned strike action.

The company said; “Unite the union has confirmed that drivers at the company’s Lancashire depot will take part in strike action over six days between 11 May and 1 June, in a dispute over pay.

“Drivers have been offered a rise of 5.2 per cent over 24 months.

“Stagecoach has drafted in extra drivers to minimise disruption for customers and has confirmed services will continue to operate on most routes, on a reduced frequency during the day, until early evening (7pm).”

Stagecoach Merseyside and South Lancashire Managing Director Rob Jones said: “We’re disappointed that the union has chosen this course of action which will only serve to disrupt our customers.

“Unfortunately their demand for a 4.8 per cent pay rise over 12 months is simply unrealistic. We have made a very fair offer and we don’t believe strike action will achieve anything other than to inconvenience local people.

“However, we have a comprehensive contingency plan in place and will do everything we can to minimise the impact on our customers.

“We will continue to keep passengers updated via our website and live Twitter feed and in the meantime, our door is open if the union wants to come and have sensible and constructive discussions.”

• Full details can be found on www.stagecoachbus.com/promos-and-offers/merseyside-and-south-lancashire/potential-strike-action on Twitter at @StagecoachMCSL.