Bus strike back on as union clashes with National Express

National Express bus drivers in the West Midlands will strike on Monday 20 March after relations between the operator and the union turned sour.

Strikes, involving over 3,200 drivers and more than 200 engineers, had first been planned for Thursday, March 16 but action was suspended when an improved pay offer was put forward.

But now Unite leaders have accused National Express of refusing to allow drivers to vote on its latest offer during meetings at their depots and say the strike is now back on.

National Express runs 93% of the West Midlands bus network and the action will cause major disruption.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Unite stands shoulder-to-shoulder with our members at National Express – attempts at union busting by the company will not change that. They will receive Unite’s complete and utter support during these strikes for a fair pay rise.”

Unite lead national officer Onay Kasab said: “Unite had agreed to put the offer to our members in a democratic vote. But National Express’ interference in our democratic processes, by refusing to allow a depot-based ballot, now mean that the offer cannot be voted on and action will go ahead on Monday. Moreover, the deal has more strings attached than a grand piano. If the company wants Unite to recommend a deal, then it needs to table an offer we know our members will accept. The company can more than afford to do that.”

But National Express hit back, with a statement saying: “This is an outrageous and calculating misrepresentation of what has happened. We have been calling for a vote all along and people can see our previous comments on that. We want our drivers to have a chance to make up their own minds on our improved offer.

“We improved our offer to 14.3% on the base rate in year one and we added certainty – at Unite’s request – for years two and three at 3.5% and 2.2%. Not only that but we were willing to give an Inflation Guarantee so that if inflation was above either 4% in year two or 3% in year three, we’d have re-opened the negotiations. Unite’s right hand clearly doesn’t know what its left hand is doing.

“The real victims in this whole scenario will be the people of the West Midlands who just want to go about their daily lives and not have to contend with the disruption and chaos that this strike will bring. To them, we say we are sincerely sorry and we are doing all we can to avoid this happening.

“We believe drivers should have their say in a free and fair way. We believe in a democratic process and support a confidential ballot. Why are Unite so scared of democracy? Let our people have their say.”

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