‘Outraged’ South Yorkshire bus drivers in strike threat

First Buses Sheffield.

First Buses Sheffield.

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Outraged bus drivers in South Yorkshire could be set to strike after a breakdown in pay negotiations with First Bus.

Drivers are locked in a pay dispute with First Bus and union members are being balloted for potential strike action.

The firm is said to have offered drivers in Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster a pay freeze followed by a one per cent increase in 2016 – which has been rejected.

The offer comes after drivers said no to an overhaul of terms and conditions for new starters, which they say would have meant new drivers were only paid for the time they spend behind the wheel.

Known as a ‘skinny drivers’ system, it would effectively mean that drivers would, for example, not earn money for time spent travelling to pick up a bus already on its route.

The Star understands First Bus would be willing to increase its current one per cent rise over two years if drivers accepted the proposed changes for new starters. The current offer is a pay-deal only, with no changes to terms.

Doug Patterson, Sheffield representative for trade union Unite, said drivers’ current deal runs out on March 31.

He said: “Effectively, the company is saying that in return for some sort of pay offer or a pay offer that is acceptable, they want drivers to agree to new terms and conditions.

“That effectively means that drivers won’t be paid for any time they are not sat directly behind the wheel of a bus.

“For example, if you have to travel and pick up a bus, perhaps which is halfway through its route, you won’t be paid for the time it takes to go and pick up that bus.

“So effectively you will work longer shifts for the same rate of pay.

“It has been introduced elsewhere but in South Yorkshire it has been resisted.”

Mr Patterson says the union has a good track record of working with First Bus and the group is willing to listen to new offers to avert a strike.

But he added: “Unfortunately, the offer the company have come up with is one drivers won’t accept.

“Without ‘skinny driver’ being in place, the company is only willing to offer zero per cent for this year and one per cent next year.

“Members are outraged by that.

“It’s widely held that the company has had one of the best years since the recession, and yet they are offering zero per cent.

“The feeling is running very, very high. The drivers feel they have worked diligently to make the company perform well, and they are being thanked with an offer that is one per cent over two years, which will in no way match inflation.

“There are many people in South Yorkshire who feel they need a pay rise. The First Bus drivers are no different.

“There is outrage and the feeling is that members are not going to accept zero per cent this year.”

He said drivers did not want disruption for customers, adding: “The drivers want to see First Bus a well used and well run company with a well liked bus service.

“But they do feel they need to share their reward for turning the business around from the previous state it was in during the recession.”

A First spokesman said: “First and our driver employee trade union representatives, Unite, remain in pay talks with the current pay-deal ending on 31 March this year.

“Whilst we must take into account rising costs and very low inflation, we are confident we can reach an agreement and avoid any unnecessary industrial action.

“We’ll keep talking to Unite to put in place a realistic solution so that we can continue attracting customers onto First buses with a sustainable business position.”