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First Manchester bus strike: disruption expected in Manchester as pay talks fail

There are two more strike days this week in an ongoing dispute over pay and working conditions.

<p>First buses. Photo: Chris Lawton </p>

First buses. Photo: Chris Lawton

A bus company embroiled in an industrial dispute with a trade union over pay and working conditions has warned customers of more days of disruption in Manchester.

Strike action is once again taking place at First Manchester as drivers walk out on Tuesday (18 January) and Thursday against in an ongoing row with the firm.

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Two days of strikes have already taken place and there are two more scheduled for later in January.

The industrial action causes widespread disruption to services across Greater Manchester and school runs are also affected.

More dates have now been confirmed here.

What has First Manchester said about arrangements for the next strikes?

First Manchester is reminding its customers to look at alternative arrangements for travel due to the dispute at its Oldham depot.

Strikes are set to go ahead for Tuesday 18 January and Thursday 20 January and the company has confirmed that means no services will be operating on those days.

That includes school services and the Yellow School Bus.

Some school routes will be covered by alternative providers and anyone affected is advised to seek information on the Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) website.

Customers with pre-bought tickets for both strikes dates will be given a refund or replacement tickets to use for future travel and the company says passengers in that position can go online to find out more.

The first two days of strike action saw some 28 schools without bus coverage, with TfGM’s attempt to cover all the affected routes being hamstrung by the high number of staff who were off work sick or self-isolating due to Covid-19.

However, the Vantage V1 and V2 services which are based at a depot in Bolton for routes from Leigh and Atherton to Manchester Royal Infirmary are unaffected.

The company said further talks had taken place since the first two days of strikes ended but these had not produced a positive result.

What is the dispute about?

The trade union Unite, which is involved in the dispute, says the sticking point in the row is the company’s refusal to backdate any pay increase to August 2021 ,the anniversary date when the annual pay increase was due.

The drivers are currently paid around £12.40 an hour and the union says such a pay level will no longer be tolerated for a highly-skilled role with considerable responsibilities.

Unite has more than 300 members and the company and there was an overwhelming mandate for strike action, with 99% of the vote in favour of downing tools.

The trade union said that bus drivers had been hailed as heroes for working on the front line during the Covid-19 pandemic but this rang hollow when a substantial improvement to pay and conditions was not forthcoming.

What has the company said?

Ian Humphreys, managing director of First Manchester, said: “Despite further talks and the efforts we have already made to meet what we were told were agreed demands, union officials have informed us the strikes will go ahead.

“The company has offered a substantial increase to £13 per hour, along with a lump sum payment. We have also offered to equalise the rate for school bus drivers with that for service bus drivers which would mean an even greater increase for this group of colleagues.

“There are no changes to our colleagues’ conditions and whilst reference has also been made to rota patterns, this is simply about the introduction of a previously agreed, shared plan to update recruiting and working practices to fulfil the company’s commitments to diversity in the workplace.

“I would like to apologise sincerely to all our customers in advance for the disruption and inconvenience this action will cause but want them to be aware of the situation so they can make plans for journeys they have to make on these days.

“Industrial action has huge impact on the community and damages confidence in using the bus, so I urge union representatives to reconsider their action and continue talking with us to resolve this dispute.”