Union backs plans to bring Sunderland bus services back under public control

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UNION bosses have indicated they could give the green light to the biggest transport shake-up in a generation.

The Unite union – estimated to represent 99 per cent of bus workers in Tyne and Wear – has indicated it is willing to support the creation of a bus quality contract scheme.

That would see local councils regain power to set bus fares, timetables and routes for the first time in quarter of a century.

Unite says it will sign up to the contract if the terms and conditions are right for their members – with a minimum pay rate of £10.30 an hour being demanded.

But if the union goes ahead and brings its members on-board, it promises to raise the hackles of Sir Brian Souter, the owner of Stagecoach bus company.

Only last week Sir Brian threatened to close the firm’s four North-East depots – including the one in Sunderland – and axe 500 services if transport chiefs make his company work to the new contracts.

Unite submitted its consultation response to the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority (ITA) bus quality contract scheme proposal on Friday, outlining exactly what it will take for members to support it.

It is calling for terms and conditions to be harmonised up with the best in the Tyne and Wear area, specifically including the minimum pay rate of £10.30 an hour and better pension provision.

Union bosses say they want to “reverse the ills of de-regulation” but will not support the contracts “at any price”.

North East Unite Officer, Fazia Hussain-Brown, said: “Privatisation and deregulation of the bus industry in Tyne and Wear has seen Unite’s members’ terms and conditions, work/life balance and health eroded, as well as competition failing the public with higher prices and a lack of ‘all operator’ tickets in many areas.

“Unite wants to engage in the quality contract process but only if the conditions are right for our members. If a quality contract fails to give Unite’s members the assurances they need then Unite will not be slow in defending our members’ interests. The future success of quality contracts depends heavily on winning over Unite members. Bus workers are the major stakeholders in this process and if Tyne and Wear’s Integrated Transport Authority and Nexus cannot get Unite’s members’ buy-in then quality contracts will not work.”

The alternative plan would see bus services run by a voluntary partnership between the bus companies.

A Stagecoach spokesperson said: “It is the views of local bus workers in Tyne and Wear that really matter, and they are rightly concerned about the threat to their jobs and pensions that bus contracts present.

“Nexus proposals make no guarantees on harmonising pay and conditions, and make it clear that Nexus cannot protect historical pension rights.

“The vast majority of Stagecoach employees have signed our petition against these flawed contract plans, including local Unite and GMB members. The only way to provide job stability for the thousands of bus workers in Tyne and Wear is through a bus partnership.”

Final submissions over the scheme closed on Friday. It is anticipated the ITA and Quality Contract Scheme Board will make a decision in spring or summer of next year.