Bus passengers in Greater Manchester face severe disruption as employees at a major public transport operator have gone on strike over pay.
Staff at Arriva first walked out on Wednesday (20 July) for a period of continuous industrial action and after more than two weeks there is still no sign of a breakthrough.
And GMB said on Wednesday (10 August) that talks over pay have broken down, following earlier clashes between the unions and the operator over the involvement of arbitration service ACAS.
Here’s what passengers who usually take Arriva buses need to know about the strike and alternative transport arrangements they need to make.
When is the strike and why?
The strike officially started at 2am on Wednesday (20 July) and is set to go on continuously until the industrial dispute over salaries is resolved.
It is not just Greater Manchester affected, with employees of Arriva across the North West going on strike.
A similar dispute with Arriva in West Yorkshire, though, resulted in four weeks of strike action in June and July and then a second walk-out after initial pay deal talks broke down.
The unions involved say this industrial action has been a long time coming as pay rates for bus drivers had gradually got worse, while Arriva has expressed disappointment that the strike is taking place.
And as the Greater Manchester dispute reaches the end of its third week there is still little sign of it being resolved any time soon.
At the end of July the parties clashed over the subject of resuming talks and the involvement of arbitration service ACAS.
In early August Unite again criticised Arriva, saying that its German parent company Deutsche Bahn is raking in millions of pounds from running UK bus services, with Germany benefitting rather than Britain.
This drew an angry response from the bus company, which denied a link between the ongoing pay negotiations and dividends paid to shareholders.
On Wednesday (10 August) GMB said talks had broken down after Arriva tabled an offer which was only 0.4% more generous than one the unions had previously rejected. The trade union described the offer as “poor”.
GMB said workers had been offered an 8.9% pay rise, when the initial rejected offer was 8.5%, along with a non-consolidated £250 one-off bonus.
What does this mean for Greater Manchester bus passengers?
The strike means that as of Wednesday none of Arriva’s usual bus services in Greater Manchester are able to operate.
It also runs services including buses connecting Bolton and Wigan, a number of services in Sale and the 19 connecting Altrincham and Wythenshawe which also serves Manchester Airport.
Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) has produced a full list of the bus services affected. These are the 10, 18, 19, 34, 34A, 245, 247, 263, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284, 285, 286, 287, 288, 320, 352, 360, 362, 375, 385, 395, 534, 541 and 575 routes.
During the industrial action journey planning for the North West on the Arriva website and on the Arriva UK Bus app will be disabled.
The operator says it will be posting updates about the strike on social media and enquiries about local bus service and tickets should be directed to Arriva customer services by ringing 0344 800 44 11.
TfGM says it has tried to cover as many services as it can but a shortage of drivers has made this tricky. However, this page of TfGM’s website indicates which alternative buses people should take during the strike.
Services 281 to 287, which serve Altrincham and surrounding areas and which are financially supported by TfGM, will be covered by an alternative operator in Goodwins, the transport body said.
However, in total some 20 bus services will not now be operating until the strike is over.
Arriva tickets of seven days or more that were purchased and activated before the date of the strike, and remain within their validity period will be accepted for travel at all stops on the Altrincham, Eccles and MediaCity UK, Manchester Airport and Trafford Park Metrolink lines.
These tickets are also valid at every tram stop within zone one of the Metrolink in Manchester city centre and any replacement bus services in operation on the Eccles and MediaCity UK line.
What has been said about the strike?
Speaking following the collapse of negotiations George Patterson, GMB regional organiser, said: “Working people are facing the worst cost of living crisis for a generation. A real terms pay cut will not cut it.
“We need to see serious shifts from Arriva or bus drivers will have no choice but to continue on strike. We approached these negotiations in good faith. Trifling offers from Arriva simply aren’t good enough.”
Arriva said it would not be commenting on this on Wednesday (10 August) but would be making a statement in the coming days.
The breakdown of talks followed earlier clashes between the unions and Arriva over returning to the negotiating table. At the time they said that for talks to resume a meaningful improvement in the offer to employees would have to be made. The bus operator responded by describing the unions’ position as disappointing and urged the trade unions to resume talking to resolve the dispute and end inconvenience for passengers.
Unite then attacked Arriva again, saying that the union’s research showed that in the last 10 years a total of £560 million has been paid in dividends from Arriva’s UK bus division to the parent company Deutsche Bahn.
The trade union says Deutsche Bahn is paying billions in dividends to the German government while workers back in the UK suffer real-terms pay cuts.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “This research is staggering and raises huge questions. Rather than invest in its own workforce Arriva has been milking profits and offshoring them to Germany. All the while the real pay of workers at Arriva North West is on a downward spiral. You could not make it up.”
In response, a spokesperson for Arriva UK Bus said: “It is completely wrong to suggest that Arriva UK Bus has been making profits when the devastating effect of the pandemic is so well documented. Our UK bus pay negotiations in the North West are ongoing and unrelated to our shareholders.
“We would like to apologise to our passengers for the ongoing disruption and misery this is causing to everyday life. We are acting in good faith and doing all we can to find a resolution.
“We urge Unite and GMB to do the same, reconsider their position, call an end to inappropriate strike action and give their members the democratic right to ballot on our latest offers.”
What did Transport for Greater Manchester say?
TfGM’s head of customer experience, Sean Dyball, said: “We understand the concern passengers will have and we want to reassure them that we’re working closely with the operator to limit the disruption as much as possible.
“Unfortunately, due to current conditions and staff absences, we have not been able to secure replacements for all routes. Where we can, we have worked to prioritise routes with no or limited alternative transport options.
“We have travel information available on our website to help people make informed journey choices and to cycle or walk where possible, especially for shorter trips.“