First Manchester bus strike: 12 new walk-out dates announced for January and February

The trade union involved in the dispute has announced a major escalation of industrial action.

A pay dispute involving Greater Manchester bus drivers has been massively ramped up after a trade union announced a string of further strike dates.

Unite has revealed no fewer than 12 days at the end of January and into February when First Manchester bus drivers will walk out in an ongoing row over pay and working conditions.

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That means that at the start of next month strikes will be taking place three days a week.

There have already been three days of strike action with more planned for tomorrow (Thursday 20 January) and next week.

The company has expressed frustration and apologised to passengers for the disruption while urging the union Unite to keep talking to resolve the dispute.

When will First Manchester drivers be going on strike?

Unite’s announcement on Wednesday (19 January) marked a significant escalation in the strike action.

In effect it means the 300-plus drivers involved will be on strike for three days a week next month.

The new dates announced are Monday 31 January followed by Tuesday 1 February, Friday 4 February, Monday 7 February to Wednesday 9 February, Tuesday 15 February, Wednesday and Thursday 17, and 18 February, Monday 21 February, Wednesday 23 February and Friday 25 February.

There are already strikes announced for tomorrow (Thursday 20 January), Monday 24 January and Wednesday 26 January.

First Manchester operates services across the city-region from its Oldham depot and the strike days have caused severe disruption, including to school runs.

What has the union said?

Unite says the key issue in the dispute is the drivers’ reluctance to accept £12.40 an hour as a level of pay for a highly-skilled role with a lot of responsibilities.

A major sticking point, the union says, in the dispute is First Manchester’s refusal to honour the anniversary date of 1 August when the pay increase for 2021 was due to come into effect and to backdate the pay increase from then.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Bus drivers, including those at First Manchester, are no longer prepared to accept low rates of pay, for the difficult and stressful work they undertake.

“Unite now does exactly what it says on the trade union tin: it always fights to defend our members’ jobs, pay and conditions. The union will be providing its full support to our members at First Manchester until this dispute is resolved.”

Unite regional officer Dave Roberts said: “Strike action has already caused considerable disruption for bus passengers throughout Greater Manchester. This was directly a result of First Manchester’s refusal to make an offer which meets our members’ expectations.

“First Manchester can afford to make our members a fair pay offer but it has chosen not to. Further strikes can be avoided but it requires the company to put forward an improved offer and to return to the negotiating table.”

What has the bus company said?

Ian Humphreys, managing director of First Manchester, said: “Despite the efforts we have already made to meet what we were told were agreed demands, union officials have announced their intention to hold further strikes.

“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 any continued action would cause. This is a decision by Unite when it would be better to keep talking to understand how our substantial offer can be agreed.

“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.”