THOUSANDS of Wearsiders were left to find alternative transport to and from work today as Metro strikes got under way.
The action came just hours before Coldplay’s gig at the Stadium of Light and ignited further anger between unions and local officials.
Drivers earning up to £37,000 with overtime turned down a 2.1 per cent revised offer following five hours of talks on Monday.
Railway owner Nexus today said the RMT should now ballot members on the revised deal rather than rushing into further stoppages on June 21 – the date of the Bruce Springsteen gig at the Stadium of Light.
Bernard Garner, director of Nexus, said: “I would urge the union to reballot members on the improved offer.”
There were no trains running today as 160 drivers took action.
Future wage changes, unions argue, will be administered based on the Average Wage Index (AWI), rather than the traditionally-agreed barometers of the Retail Price Index or the Consumer Price Index.
The RMT union says this effectively locks their workers into yearly pay cuts as the AWI does not take into account living standards or the state of the economy.
The timing of the walk-out has led some city officials to claim the strike will damage the local economy.
But the RMT disagrees.
A spokesman said: “It’s all conjecture, that’s the problem with what they’re saying.
“This deal will hit the Tyne and Wear workforce because they are paying for the profits of a private company through yearly pay cuts.”
“Withdrawing your labour force to protect your interests will have some impact, but we didn’t want to do this.
“The ballot results reflected the level of anger felt.”
Sunderland Councillor Peter Wood, leader of the combined Conservative and Liberal Democrat opposition on the transport authority, said the strikes would hit the local economy, but admitted it was difficult to put a figure on such a claim.
The North East Chamber of Commerce, which has been critical of the industrial action, also declined to offer any figures on exactly what impact the action will have.
Nexus said the combined cost of today’s strike and that planned for June 21 “would run into six figures”.
A RMT spokesman added: “If Nexus were concerned about impacts on the local economy they wouldn’t have introduced these contracts.
“And I would ask Peter Wood why he has decided to support contracts like this that want to cut the wages of local workers.”
•Wearside gears up for Coldplay, turn to p6.
GIG-GOERS are urged to allow extra time for their journey to the Stadium of Light tonight.
There will also be 1,000 additional parking spaces made available at the Bridges in Sunderland city centre, which will be open until 1am. Additional bus services are being provided by Go North East between Newcastle and Sunderland on the X3 and 56 services. For details go to the website www.simplygo.com
Metro is providing a fleet of 55 special buses which will run after the concert from Stadium of Light to Heworth Interchange and Newcastle City Centre to help people on their journey home. Staff will be on hand to direct people to these buses.
Full details of services available can be found at www.nexus.org.uk along with travel planning advice. This is also available from North East Traveline on 0871 200 22 33.
SUNDERLAND City Council claims it has been forced to close roads tonight because of the Metro strike.
It has implemented an emergency closure of Queen’s Road, Keir Hardie Way and a short section of Southwick Road – between Keir Hardie Way and Newcastle Road.
It is expected to start at 10pm and last for three hours.
Only bus traffic will be allowed along Queen’s Road, Keir Hardie Way and Southwick Road.
The closure points will be staffed by traffic management personnel at the junction with Stoney Lane in the west, and the junction with North Bridge Street in the east.
Diversion for traffic will be signposted via Newcastle Road, Thompson Road, Sunderland Road, Church Bank and Northern Way.
The roads will be reopened when traffic subsides and it is deemed by police.
Enquiries regarding the concerts can call 551 5004.