Bus manufacturer vows to maintain production despite industrial action

Optare, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ashok Leyland and a producer of mass-transit buses, says it has put in place contingency plans to maintain production and deliver orders despite a union decision to take industrial action.

The Leeds-based company says it intends to manage through the period of industrial action, while remaining focused on its turnaround programme to return it to sustainable profitability.

As reported earlier this week, workers at the manufacturer have voted in favour of strike action.

The trade union Unite says this is over the company’s “broken promise” to provide a pay increase for 2019 and 2020.

Unite said the bus-maker has refused to honour an August 2019 pledge to implement a pay rise by November of that year.

But in response today, Optare has said it is urging Unite to reconsider demands for a pay rise, at a time when other automotive manufacturers are cutting thousands of jobs.

It adds the pay rise demands follow a period in which the company has maintained employment and paid furloughed production workers with 100% of their contractual pay, while management took salary cuts to help preserve the financial well-being of the company.

Graham Belgum, Optare chief executive, said: “As a company we respect the decision that was made yesterday by union members to take industrial action – although we can’t deny that we are disappointed by the outcome.

“A rolling programme of stoppages and strike action during the Covid pandemic whilst we prepare for the turnaround of Optare to put the business on a firm financial footing is unhelpful.

“Furthermore, by striking, our hard-working employees risk losing wages that we have preserved throughout the COVID lockdowns, at a time when we must continue to meet demand from our customers.

“This is a pivotal moment for Optare as we continue to invest in the future of the company to get through this extraordinary situation.

“Our parent company has supported this business over the past few years with more than £100m of investment and we must continue to weather this storm.

“We remain determined to continue to keep our workforce employed and safe and we retain a real willingness to continue to engage with the union and reach a potential solution.”

Belgum and senior executives at Optare met yesterday with union representatives following a vote in which 16% of the organisation voted to stop work.

He vowed to meet customer orders to the standard that bus operators continue to expect.