Drivers to be balloted on strike action at bus company

Trade union Unite says it wants a restoration of a full pre-Covid-19 bus schedules’ agreement and normal timetables.

And it adds that nearly 400 bus drivers in Bradford, employed by First West Yorkshire, will be balloted for strike action from Monday 23 November.

Unite says the company is refusing to restore the bus schedule to pre-pandemic levels, adding this is despite traffic and passenger movements having returned to “near normal”.

However, this is disputed by First West Yorkshire. The firm’s managing director, Paul Matthews, today responded: “Passenger numbers had been some 50% of pre-Covid levels prior to the latest lockdown but have since dropped, which showsthe situation now is still far from normal, and measures to control the pandemic could continue to affect demand and travel behaviour.”

Unite deputy regional secretary, Tas Sangha, said: “As passenger numbers rise to almost pre-Covid levels, the company needs to restore the agreements for First in Bradford.

“We hope that its reluctance to do so is not down to old fashioned-penny pinching.

“As more and more people return to their place of work, you will need more buses on the road to enable proper social distancing for passengers and we want to avoid a situation where queues of bus users are lined up in the cold weather waiting for a reduced number of buses to appear.

“Our members, classed as essential workers, have been under a lot of stress covering for sick and absent colleagues during the pandemic, so we believe the swift restoration of a full service will reduce health and safety risks for drivers and passengers.

“There also needs to be an analysis of workforce requirements during the winter months.

“Our members are reluctant to take strike action during the continuing national emergency, but feel they have been pushed to the limit over a long period of time and that First management has failed to grasp the big picture.

“We would like to hold urgent talks to resolve this issue as soon as possible and avert the need for industrial action.”

The ballot closes on Monday 7 December.

Matthews said: “We are surprised and disappointed that the trade union locally has decided to proceed with plans to ballot its members.

“The working arrangements that we have in place have been fully agreed with the trade union to provide the flexibility to manage any change in the current circumstances, maintain employment opportunities and ensure we maintain effective services for customers as efficiently as possible, as is the requirement of the essential Government support funding we currently receive.

“Our drivers have shown commitment and professionalism in enabling journeys for essential workers throughout the pandemic and this has been achieved by working together.

“We remain willing to continue discussions to find a satisfactory way forward.”