Arriva bus strike: continuous strike action across North West over below-inflation pay dispute

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham has said the dispute is ‘entirely of Arriva’s own making’

More than 1,800 drivers across the North West have walked out on strike, causing Arriva North West to cancel all services, in a long-running dispute over pay.

Unite and GMB bus drivers have become the latest of a growing group of workers across the UK taking industrial action to try and secure a better pay offer in the face of rampant inflation.

Why are Arriva North West workers on strike?

The strike was announced after a ballot of Unite members saw 96% vote yes, on a 72% turnout.

Workers from depots in Birkenhead, Bolton, Bootle, Liverpool, Macclesfield, Manchester, Runcorn, Southport, Speke, St Helens and Winsford will take part in continuous strike action.

A number of drivers say their wages are so low that they have to claim Universal Credit, with rates of pay varying between depots, but generally in the early-to-mid £20,000s.

Negotiations have been ongoing since February, with the company initially offering a 3% non-conditional increase or a deal worth 6% which would include a reduction in sick pay and loss of Saturday enhanced pay.

Inflation in June hit a historic high of 9.4% by the CPI measure, while RPI is currently tracking at more than 11%.

More recently, following the threat of strike action, the company has increased its offer to what it says is 8.5%, although GMB, one of the unions representing workers in the region, has disputed this claim.

Robert Marnell, GMB Organiser, said the company is “painting a different picture to what actually happened” regarding the pay deal.

He said: “They are hiding behind the impact of the pandemic and the removal of government funding to justify their miserly offers.

“The company only increased their offer once they knew we were serious about industrial action.

“Even these offers have been split awards, not full awards. The 8.5% they refer to is split into 5% from April, with a further 3.5% promised in October.

“Members have been quite clear of their aspirations from day one - they want £15 per hour - an 11.1% increase - and even when lowering their demands, requested at least RPI rise.”

Can Arriva afford to increase their pay offer?

Arriva’s bus arm did record a drop in revenue in 2020, according to the most recent accounts filings.

Most bus companies took a significant hit to revenues during the pandemic as passenger numbers dropped and are still yet to fully recover.

However, the industry did receive significant support from the government, with around 160 operating companies each receiving a share of a £2 billion funding pot.

Arriva North West is owned by Deutsche Bahn, which is ultimately owned by the German state, and is among the biggest and richest transport companies in the world.

According to Unite, Deutsche Bahn has made almost £6 billion in profit and paid out dividends of more than £4 billion to the German government in the last 10 years.

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.”

Howard Farrall, North West & Wales Area Operating Director for Arriva UK Bus, said strike action is “counter-productive” and expressed disappointment that the company was “unable to reach an agreement” with the unions.

He said: “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.

“We’re calling on Unite & GMB to abandon their plans for this damaging strike and to ballot their members on the new offer."