Warning of Plymouth bus 'chaos' as drivers vote on strike action

Nearly 600 Plymouth bus drivers are being balloted for strike action over pay, union bosses have said. Unite predicted there could be “bus chaos” with strikes completely shutting down Plymouth’s bus network from July.

The union said the industrial action is being threatened because drivers working for Go-Ahead, which owns Plymouth Citybus and Go Cornwall, are demanding their wages be brought in line with colleagues in other parts of the country - where they are earning up to nearly £3 an hour more.

The union said that, for instance, Go-Ahead drivers in Oxford are currently paid £2.84 more an hour than the Plymouth drivers, while drivers in Brighton are paid £1.83 more. Even under Go-Ahead’s current 2024 offer for the Plymouth drivers, Oxford drivers would still be earning £2.24 an hour more, while drivers in Brighton would be paid £1.23 an hour more, the union said.

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Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Plymouth Bus drivers will not be treated as second class employees by Go-Ahead any longer. This is a highly profitable company and can well afford to put forward a better offer. Go-Ahead’s Plymouth drivers have their union’s total support.”

In March, Go-Ahead reported revenues of £3.2bm and profits of £89m. The industrial action ballot will close on July 1, strikes, which could begin later next month. Unite regional officer Dave Smith said: “Go-Ahead is set on causing chaos to Plymouth’s travelling public because it wants to employ drivers in the city on the cheap. There is still time to avoid industrial action, but that requires Go-Ahead to put forward an acceptable offer that considers the large pay disparity between Plymouth and its operations elsewhere.”

Richard Stevens, managing director for Plymouth Citybus and Go Cornwall Bus said: “We are all disheartened that we have not reached agreement for this year’s review of pay. The company has put forward two above-inflation pay offers to colleagues. Both have been rejected by Unite members who have voted against acceptance in two workplace ballots.”

He added: “The offer put forward by the company is 4%, double the current CPI rate. Had bus drivers in Plymouth Citybus and Go Cornwall Bus accepted the most recent offer; they would have earned £15.60 per hour, or £32,448 per annum based on a minimum 40 hours per week guarantee in year one. It also guaranteed a £16 per hour or CPI + 1%, whichever was higher from April 2025.”

He said Figures published in May 2024 by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show the average annual salary in Plymouth is currently £26,820, with the South West indicated to be £28,748. Mr Stevens said: “We always aim to pay the most the company can afford not the least, to its team members, the offers we have made ensure that people's earnings stay ahead of inflation.

“Our bus drivers’ hourly rate we believe continues to be the highest in the South West and is the most the company can afford to pay without impact to services. Last year the drivers received an increase in pay of 11.8%, sadly Unite the Union refuses to recognise the reality of the operational and financial situation the company is in, with this demand for an 18.9% pay increase.

“We have always been and continue to engage in meaningful negotiations, sadly we now must await the strike ballot result, expected soon after July 1 to see if Unite the Union are prepared to engage in a discussion that avoids the pain and disruption of a strike being inflicted on our customers and team members."

Following Mr Stevens' quotes, Unite contacted PlymouthLive to stress it is not demanding an 18.9% increase in pay but that workers are asking to be brought up to £16 per hour this year or 6.6% pay rise to bring them more into line with their colleagues elsewhere.

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