UK's GDP could fall due to coronavirus
Leeds public transport in trouble as 800 bus drivers go on strike. Photo: AFP / Anthony Devlin

In a major development, First Bus drivers in Leeds are set to go on indefinite strike this month. The move comes at a time when the cost-of-living crisis is hugely affecting the general public of Britain and many workers are going on strike over better pay.

As many as 800 bus drivers are going on strike which will cause a major disruption in Leeds.

First West Yorkshire drivers have made it clear that they are taking the path of continuous industrial action as the company has refused to set a date for pay rises. Hence, they will go on strike starting June 18. The bus drivers haven't disclosed the exact amount of time this will be happening for, meaning that this will go on daily until demands are made. It's likely to cause major traffic overhauls in Leeds as public transport is disrupted.

The financial crisis led to a new pay date

First Bus was undergoing a financial crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of which they made an agreement with the drivers that their annual pay date would change to October. This was supposed to help the company financially. However, now that the pandemic is over the workers are expecting a return to the earlier pay date which the company has refused.

The 800 bus drivers on strike are being represented by the union Unite which underlined how First West Yorkshire has refused to go back to the pre-pandemic pay date system that falls in April. The drivers are reeling under the cost-of-living crisis, struggling to make ends meet. In such a situation, the delayed pay date reversal is robbing them of an earlier pay rise. They will not receive the increased wages until October.

Refusal to revert a stab in the back

When First West Yorkshire needed its drivers to dig deep for the company, they did. Not only did they put themselves and their families' health on the line by continuing to drive First buses, but they also agreed to delay getting a pay rise.
Sharon Graham, General Secretary, Unite.

Unite alleges that First Group has exploited the drivers and taken advantage of their sacrifices. The drivers had kept their wages down despite skyrocketing inflation. As such the drivers have the right to strike until their demands are met. They are terming the refusal to go back to the pre-pandemic pay date "a stab in the back" by the First West Yorkshire company. Unite has said that they are fully supporting the striking workers in this ordeal.

How will this affect transport?

So far, First Bus hasn't revealed how the strikes will affect the bus schedule in Leeds. It's likely to have a widespread impact on the public transport of the city as bus drivers come from two West Yorkshire depots and both are on strike.

First Bus operates 60 buses that take people in and around Leeds and West Yorkshire. With the 800 bus drivers out on strike, it's not clear how many of these buses will be available from June 18.

The company wants to negotiate

First's profits continue to soar. This dispute can be brought to an end quickly and simply: First West Yorkshire needs to return the anniversary date back to April and begin pay talks.
Darren Rushworth, Regional Officer, Unite.

Unite has underlined how the First West Yorkshire company is making soaring profits and can easily get back to the previous pay dates.

We are disappointed in the decision of UNITE to announce strike action. The current agreement on pay, which was signed by UNITE and its officials, is in place and agreed upon until October 2023.
Andrew Cullen, Managing Director, First North & West Yorkshire.

Meanwhile, the First North & West Yorkshire company has expressed their disappointment in Unite going on strike, citing that the agreement is valid till October this year. They underlined that they have been working tirelessly to ease the economic pressure of the drivers by providing them with unconditional offers and they are willing to do this further, and Unite should facilitate this dialogue rather than announcing a strike.

The First North & West Yorkshire team is ready and willing to meet and we encourage Unite to join us so we can finalise a settlement and help our drivers to manage the continuing pressure on the cost of living that everyone is facing as quickly as possible.
Andrew Cullen, Managing Director, First North & West Yorkshire.

This month Unite has announced bus drivers' strikes from other organisations like Arriva as well. These bus drivers are demanding a seven per cent pay rise and for that 1700 of them are going on a strike on June 20 and June 21 which is likely to disrupt the transport system in and around London. Furthermore, the Arriva bus drivers have planned for another strike on June 27 and June 28. Regions like Enfield, Clapton and Tottenham will be affected by this.