Arriva North West long term strike action suspended after 29 days of disruption

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Bus passengers in Merseyside are seeing bus services provided by Arriva return to normal operation following a long period when none of the firm’s services operated across the North West

Back on 19 July, Arriva North West confirmed that two trade unions representing its drivers had informed the company of their intention to strike from 0200hrs on Wednesday 20 July, which would result in no Arriva bus services operating within Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Lancashire or Cheshire, with the exception of local Macclesfield services; services in Wales and running out of Chester depot and into Chester from Wrexham and Rhyl were also unaffected and continued to operate.

Drivers’ union Unite first announced its intention for its members to strike on 5 July due to the first pay offer for driving staff being a rejected as a ‘pitiful’ 3% with no strings attached or 6% which included reductions in sick pay and loss of Saturday enhanced pay. Unite said: “Both the offers are far below the current real inflation rate (RPI) of 11.7% and so constitute a pay cut.”

Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham said: “This dispute is entirely of Arriva’s own making. It can fully afford to ensure its workers receive decent pay and conditions. Instead, Arriva has made our members a pitiful offer. Not only do they want workers to accept a real terms pay cut, they also want them to sacrifice their sick pay. This is just not acceptable. Unite will back these members to the hilt until this dispute is resolved and they receive a decent pay increase.”

Around 1,800 workers returned a 96% yes vote in favour of strike action, based on a 72% turnout.

Howard Farrall, Arriva North West & Wales Area Operating Director, said on 19 July: “We are very disappointed that we were unable to reach an agreement with Unite and GMB, who have confirmed they plan to hold a strike for an indefinite period across services in the North West. Our people play a hugely important role keeping communities moving and they fully deserve a fair pay rise – especially with the cost-of-living increasing so much.

“It’s why despite the significant pressures on the bus sector with increasing costs and passenger numbers still at below pre-pandemic levels, we have offered our people a generous pay rise of 8.5% – an increase far higher than most workers are receiving from their employers at a time of considerable economic pressure. Furthermore, we have tabled this offer during a time of significant focus on sustainability of our networks in partnership with our local public transport authorities, to ensure that Arriva continues to deliver and manage a viable bus network across the region reflecting post-pandemic passenger trends.

“It isn’t right that the unions wouldn’t put this latest offer to their own members and allow them to exercise their democratic right to vote. The mandate for strikes arose from a ballot of Unite and GMB members on a previous pay offer, meaning strikes are continuing without the improved proposal being put to employees by the Unions.

“Strike action is counter-productive, harms the communities and customers we serve, and damages bus travel at a time when we should all be focused on building recovery from the pandemic. We’re calling on Unite and the GMB to abandon their plans for this damaging strike and to ballot their members on the new offer.”

In the days that followed the start of the strike action, Arriva North West said on 1 August: “We have worked tirelessly to reach an agreement on a way forward, today making an offer that would have seen our drivers being the highest paid in the region, with no changes to current employee benefits and a lump sum backdated pay to April 1st 2022.”

By the 12 August, the operator had tabled an improved offer, and Unite and the GMB chose to ballot members on this offer. The ballot took place on Monday 15 and Tuesday 16 August, but following the offer was again rejected. Arriva said: “We are incredibly disappointed that Unite and GMB members have voted not to accept our latest pay offer, inflicting yet further disruption and misery on our customers in the North West.

“Following the rejection of our latest pay offer today we agreed to meet the Union’s pay demand in an attempt to end this strike action. The Unions responded by significantly increasing their pay demand for the second time in this process. This brings into question their intentions.

“The Unions are fully aware of the financial implications we face and the implications for our customers and local bus networks across the North West. We will continue to do all we can to resolve this dispute as quickly as possible. We understand the detrimental impact this situation is having on our customers, our communities, our local economy – we urge the unions to reconsider their position, act in good faith and show a genuine willingness to resolve this dispute for the benefit of their members and our customers.”

On the afternoon of Wednesday 17 August, the GMB union confirmed that the strike had been suspended after Arriva North West met driving staff’s demands. The new deal is for an hourly rate of £15 per hour, equating to an 11.1% pay increase.

George Patterson, GMB Organiser, said: “After weeks of unnecessary industrial action, Arriva bosses have finally come back with an offer that meets GMB members’ expectations. Industrial action will now be suspended while members vote on this new deal. If they accept, the strike will be officially over.”

An Arriva spokesperson added: “Arriva North West is today able to confirm that following ongoing discussions in recent weeks, all parties have come to an agreement on an unprecedented pay deal for Arriva North West drivers. Furthermore, it has also been agreed that industrial action across Cheshire, Lancashire, Manchester and Merseyside will be suspended from 0300hrs on Thursday 18 August and all parties will now work together to progress the pay offer.”

The depots involved in the dispute were Birkenhead, Bolton, Bootle, Liverpool, Macclesfield, Manchester, Runcorn, Southport, Speke, St Helens, and Winsford. JONATHAN WELCH