The union representing hundreds of bus drivers has refuted claims made by a company over its pay offer.
Earlier today, Arriva urned Unite to reconsider the week of strike action which will see 650 bus drivers in North East walk out over an ongoing pay dispute.
They will walk out in the early hours of Sunday, January 6, until 11.59pm on Saturday, January 12.
The drivers, based at Durham, Darlington, Redcar, Stockton and Whitby, are seeking an increase £1 per hour on the rates for the year starting March 2018.
The firm’s latest pay offer, rejected by Unite, comprises a 7.6% increase on hourly rates over a two year period (backdated to March 2018), a reduction in the length of time it takes drivers to hit the top rate of pay (from five years to three years), and a guarantee of a further increase in March 2020 equivalent to £1 an hour.
This evening, Unite issued a statement in reaction to the company's stance on the issue.
The unions said that the claims made by Nigel Featham, regional managing director of Arriva Buses were "a deliberate ploy to muddy the waters,"
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.
“Arriva is a highly profitable operation.
"Arriva Durham County’s real agenda is a helter-skelter race to the bottom in terms of pay and employment conditions, when a decent employer would wish to better reward its hardworking employees.
"The company is deliberately muddying the waters.
“We appreciate that the public will be greatly inconvenienced by the strike, which we worked tirelessly to avoid, but at talks yesterday the management put ‘no new money on the table’ and also threatened to slash services, if Unite carried on with the strike.
“The UK has some of the strictest rules governing industrial action in western Europe and Unite held a legitimate ballot for strike action which our members overwhelmingly voted for. Industrial democracy should be the bedrock of our employment practices.
“The Arriva management has had plenty of time to settle this dispute and their energies would be better spent in resolving it, rather than promoting anti-union diatribes, which do not help bus travellers in the North East.”
The bus drivers rejected the revised package before Christmas which included 75p on the hourly rate over two years in four instalments.
The drivers are seeking an increase £1 per hour on the rates for the year starting March 2018.