Stagecoach rejects union safety claims as Sunderland five-day bus drivers’ strike begins

A war of words erupted between Stagecoach North East bosses and a trade union as bus drivers began strike action in Sunderland.

A picket line was staged at the company’s city deopt as those staff who are part of the GMB began five days of strike action over pay.

Union members are picketing the firm’s depot in North Bridge Street, Monkwearmouth, with almost 200 drivers involved in the dispute.

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The industrial action comes after a ballot which saw 97 per cent of GMB members vote for industrial action on an 83 per cent turnout.

Workers are angry after being offered what the GMB describes as ‘a massive real terms pay cut’ of four per cent, with two per cent to follow later in the year.

The union claimed company bosses had been getting behind the wheel to help run a reduced service, expressing concerns about safety issues.

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GMB Organiser Stuart Gilhespy, said: “Driving a 12 tonne double decker bus isn’t as simple as passing a driving test.

“To be fully in safe control of these vehicles around buy roads takes proper, on street experience.”

Pickets wave flags for passing motorists

But the claims were rejected by the company, with a spokesperson telling the Echo: "These claims are without foundation and an attempt to divert attention from the fact there is no justification for current strike action.

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"Safety is always our absolute priority and our services are only delivered by individuals with the required bus driving qualification and training.

"We have reached pay agreements with other trade unions at our other north east depots, which cover the vast majority of our staff. The proposals we have put forward for Sunderland are similar and would make our people amongst the highest paid of any bus drivers in the region.

"Instead of wasting time on invented claims, we would urge the union to return to talks so we can resolve this dispute, deliver a good pay rise for our employees, and restore bus services to our local communities."

Pickets line the North Bridge Street bus stop
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Stagecoach North East says it has made ‘numerous offers’ to the GMB, similar to those agreed with other unions in the region, and which would make Sunderland drivers “amongst the highest paid of any bus drivers in the region”.

Speaking last week, managing director Steve Walker said bosses had ‘left no stone unturned’ in trying to agree a deal.

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Revised timetables for the strike period are available on the Stagecoach website.

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Some buses are still operating
GMB organiser Stuart Gilhespy
Pickets are out in force
Members of the GMB have walked out