The National Express West Midlands bus strike has entered its fourth day this morning (Thursday, March 23). Some 3,100 bus drivers, who are members of Unite the Union, are on an all out indefinite strike having rejected a pay offer from the bus operator.
Crunch talks are expected to take place between the two parties today (March 23) about the pay issue, according to reports. But last night National Express urged passengers to make alternative travel arrangements for the next few days - and weekend.
The bus operator said: “We have been advised that the bus strikes are set to continue. Sadly this means that you should plan alternative travel arrangements for the next few days and the weekend. We continue to run a limited service, primarily to the region’s major hospitals.”
The strikes are causing chaos for thousands of people across the West Midlands who are unable to attend work, hospital appointments, school and more. National Express operates 93% of bus services in the region.
Mayor Andy Street has issued an urgent appeal to both the Unite the Union bus drivers and National Express West Midlands to end the strikes as soon as possible. Street said: “National Express & Unite need to put passengers first and do a deal. If they can’t, then an independent, non-political arbitrator is going to have to be called in. This misery for passengers has to be brought to an end.”
Mayor Andy Street’s full statement
“It is incredible that National Express & Unite are yet to get back round the table and do a deal, especially when you consider there must be a deal to be done as there has already been a very good 14.3% pay offer.
“If three days of strikes wasn’t bad enough, we’re now seeing the situation escalate on picket lines with police having to get involved. That is deeply depressing, and underlines why a fair Ideal has to be struck.These strikes are causing misery for hundreds of thousands of passengers who are being stopped from getting to work, to education, or even to hospital.
“With that in mind it is now clear that if a deal isn’t done by the end of this week then an independent, non-political arbitrator needs to be brought in. It shouldn’t have to come to arbitration, but if both sides are unable to put passengers first and bring these strikes to a fair conclusion then that is what must happen.
“Transport for West Midlands are continuing to issue travel advice and do all they can to keep our transport network moving, but really this is now all down to National Express and Unite to do a deal or accept arbitration.”
Why are National Express bus drivers on strike?
The National Express bus drivers have been on strike since March 20 and yesterday (March 22) police had to be called in as strikers prevented buses from leaving garages in Birmingham and Coventry. National Express said they have seen a surge in applications for bus driver jobs in the last week.
The union says that bus workers pay fell by six per cent in real terms between 2018 and 2021 - with the gap increasing even further in 2022 due to rocketing prices caused by the cost of living crisis.
Unite says National Express bus driver’s starting salary begins at £11.80 an hour, progressing to just over £14 after three years of service. Meanwhile Abellio workers in London are paid £18 an hour after two years of service, which more closely reflects the difficulties and pressures that come with the job
The Union contrasted the pay of bus drivers with that paid to National Express, saying that - over the last 10 years - National Express paid its CEO an average annual salary of £2.6 million.
What has National Express West Midlands said about the pay dispute?
A spokesperson for National Express West Midlands said: “Drivers rejected the improved offer of a 14.3% pay increase along with increases to Christmas and New Year’s pay and accident pay. The package would have brought an experienced driver salary up to nearly £33k, and unlocked more than £900 of back pay for a full time driver.”