Arriva boss writes open letter to Unite questioning bus driver strike

Arriva bus drivers are taking part in a week of strike action.
Arriva bus drivers are taking part in a week of strike action.

An open letter from Arriva to the Unite union asks why more than 600 bus drivers are continuing to strike, saying that they have already 'achieved pay equality.'

The letter, addressed to Bob Bowlam, full time officer at Unite, says that bus drivers have already achieved the pay equality they asked for.

In it, Arrival regional managing director Mr Featham, highlights the wages comparison data released to show that the deal offered ensures Arriva Durham drivers are not bottom of the pay ladder when measured against other Arriva regions and competitor bus companies.

This week members of the Unite union working for Arriva, based at Darlington, Durham, Redcar, Stockton and Whitby, are striking over an ongoing pay dispute.

A total of 650 drivers are taking part in the wee-long strike action that will last until Saturday, January 12.

They rejected a revised package before Christmas which Unite said included 75p on the hourly rate over two years in four instalments.

The drivers are seeking an increase of £1 an hour.

Unite official Bob Bolam said the workers believed they are the second-lowest-paid Arriva drivers in the country.

But Arriva is questioning the reason for the strike, with the letter saying: "You asked for pay equality.

"That’s what you have achieved.

"So why are you still striking?

"Unite has been consistent over recent months in seeking what it claims is pay equality with drivers in other Arriva regions.

"Following extensive negotiations we made a substantial offer of 7.6% over two years, together with a reduction in the time taken, from five years to three years, for drivers to achieve the top rate of pay in future.

"We also guaranteed a further increase in fourteen months’ time.

"Our offer will add 10% to our payroll - a significant increase in our operational costs.

"Your own communications persist in stating that the crux of the dispute is pay inequality.

"In fact a Unite leaflet distributed today, entitled ‘Lowest Paid Drivers in the Country’, continues to repeat this distortion.

"As a result, the seven-day strike goes ahead, causing considerable transport disruption and inconvenience to passengers in the North East.

"In addition, many of the drivers you represent are openly questioning why they are out on strike instead of working.

"So, with respect, my question is: why is the strike continuing when the union has achieved what it asked for?"

Talks between Unite - Britain and Ireland’s largest union, which represents the drivers - and the Arriva Durham County Ltd management, broke down on Thursday when the company said there was ‘no new money’ on the table.

Unite accused the bosses of ‘going around and around in circles’, after the drivers overwhelmingly rejected a revised pay offer just before Christmas.

Unite regional officer Bob Bolam said tonight: “We have been heartened how successful the first two days of strike action have been.

“Our members have also really appreciated the strong support they have received from their local communities.

“Unite’s door is open for constructive talks with the Arriva management 24/7.

“However, if the management wishes to continue to play hard ball, we will consult our members on what industrial action they want after this week long strike finishes at the weekend.”

On Friday, Unite regional officer Bob Bolam said: “We strongly refute Nigel Featham’s assertion that the pay offer on the table would make our members ‘the very best paid drivers in the North East’.

“This is because the other companies operating bus services across the region have a range of different pay rates, and terms and conditions, so it is invidious to make such direct comparisons with our members’ pay."