Bus drivers in Manchester will walk out next week in a strike which is expected to cause severe disruption to commutes and school runs.
First Manchester staff will down tools on Monday 10 January and Tuesday 11 January in a dispute over pay.
Last-minute talks were held on Friday (7 January) between the company and trade union Unite but they came to nothing.
First Manchester has apologised and said it is committed to resolving the dispute, while attempts to source replacement buses to get pupils to their lessons have faced high levels of staff absence due to Covid-19.
Why is the strike taking place?
Unite says the key sticking point for its members is the company’s refusal to backdate any pay increase to August 2021, the anniversary date for when the annual pay increase was due.
The drivers currently earn £12.40 an hour for what the union calls “a highly-skilled and responsible role” and say they will no longer accept low pay.
Industrial action received massive backing, with a 99% ballot in favour of strikes among the 300 or so union members.
Several rounds of negotiations have been held but to no avail.
And should the dispute rumble on beyond the start of next week there are four further days of strikes planned, on 18, 20, 24 and 26 January.
Will schools be affected?
Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) says there will be considerable disruption to school buses, with parents and pupils in parts of Manchester, Rochdale, Oldham and Tameside being encouraged to plan journeys on Monday 10 and Tuesday 11 January,
TfGM says it has been working with other operators to cover as many services as possible, but limited driver availability due to Covid-related staff shortages means not all services can be replaced.
In total 28 services will not run, affecting the following schools:
- Alder Community High School
- Co-op Academy, Manchester
- Great Academy, Ashton
- Kingsway Park
- Longdendale High School
- Mossley Hollins
- Newman College
- Oasis Academy
- Oasis Leesbrook
- Our Ladys RCHS
- Radclyffe School
- Royton & Crompton
- St Cuthbert’s
- St Damian’s
- Waterhead Academy
Any replacement services that run will display the usual bus service number.
What other disruption will there be?
First Manchester runs bus services across the city-region, so disruption is expected to be widespread with no services running on both days due to the action at its Oldham depot.
TfGM is encouraging bus passengers to leave plenty of time for their journeys on the strike days and to find alternative ways of travelling if they can.
However, the bus company has said the Vantage V1 and V2 services based at a depot in Bolton for routes from Leigh and Atherton to Manchester Royal Infirmary are unaffected.
What has the union said?
Unite regional officer Dave Roberts said: “Our members are taking strike action as a last resort. Despite numerous meetings, First Manchester’s management has either failed to understand or ignored our members’ aspirations.
“The ball is now firmly in First Manchester’s court. Unite remains available for further negotiations in order to resolve this dispute but the company needs to be willing to bring forward an improved offer.”
The trade union’s general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Our members have been hailed as heroes for working throughout pandemic but that praise feels decidedly hollow when First Manchester is refusing to make our members a reasonable pay offer.
“Unite is the union which always prioritises the jobs, pay and conditions of its members and our bus drivers at First Manchester will be receiving the union’s unstinting support until this dispute is resolved.”
What has TfGM said?
TfGM’s customer director Stephen Rhodes, said: “We understand the concern parents and pupils will have and I want to reassure them that we’re working closely with the operator and the schools affected to limit the disruption to children as much as possible.
“Unfortunately, due to the very late notice of this industrial action and staff absences that multiple bus operators are experiencing, we have not been able to secure replacements for all routes. Where we can, we have worked to prioritise those schools 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.“
What has the company said?
First Manchester said it will continue to talk to Unite in the hope of resolving the dispute and preventing any further strike action.
Ian Humphreys, managing director of First Manchester, said: “I would like to apologise sincerely to all our customers for the disruption and inconvenience this will cause.
“We have been holding extensive talks with union representatives over the last few days and made every attempt to avoid industrial action, especially given the short notice this creates for our customers to make alternative travel arrangements.”
He added: “We are extremely disappointed that Unite the Union have chosen this course of action at a time when our efforts are focused on protecting jobs and maintaining services for the travelling public.”