The National Express bus strikes in the West Midlands have entered their third day as travel chaos continues across the region.
The All-out Indefinite strike began on Monday (March 20) with no end currently in sight. A skeleton bus service is operating - mainly to hospitals - during the walk out causing chaos for workers and schools across Birmingham and the wider West Midlands.
Unite the Union called the strike action due to issues surrounding pay for its members. 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.
Some 3,000 Unite the Union members who are bus drivers at National Express West Midlands have walked out during the strikes and and held protests. Yesterday morning (Wednesday, March 21) bus drivers on picket lines in Birmingham and Coventry also blocked buses from leaving garages with the police being called.
National Express West Midlands, which currently oversees 93% of the bus serivces across the region, says it has offered drivers a 14.3% pay increase, which, at £16.46 an hour, would take the typical driver to £33,000 a year.
The update on job applications comes as the bus operator warned passengers that disruption to servies due to industrial action is due to continue through the next few days - and weekend. However crunch talks are being held today (Thursday, March 23).
A National Express spokesperson 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. Alternative public transport is still running, to find out more please visit the TfWM website.”
National Express West Midlands bus driver jobs update
Yesterday afternoon (Wednesday, March 21) the bus operator has announced that applications to work as a bus driver with them have more than doubled since the bus strikes were announced.
The company said that in an average week the bus operator receives 140 applications a week. But in the last week - since the strikes were announced - there has been a record 393 applications.
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. The union has also stressed that bus drivers face huge pressures, citing one National Express driver who said: “I was punched in the face a couple of months ago. I lost a tooth.
“The majority of passengers are absolutely brilliant, but you get a lot of abuse out on the road – being spat at, things thrown at you. It happens all the time. Just basically for doing your job the best you can to get people where they need to go.”
Another National Express driver said: “I’ll be at work for 12 hours, drive nine of those but because of the way pay is worked out I’ll get wages for just seven and a half hours. It’s split shifts so I can start work at 4am one day and on another I’ll be finishing at 10pm. A lot of the time, I’m driving continuously for five and a half hours and there’s no access to a toilet. No wonder there’s always a shortage of drivers.”
What do you need to become a driver for National Express?
The roles do not require any GCSEs or academic qualifications and all that’s needed is to be over 18, hold a valid UK car licence and have a passion to deliver great customer service.
The transport operator also provides a company pension and fully paid annual leave, a free bus and coach pass for all drivers, and free bus travel for their partner or a free coach pass for someone they choose.
A National Express West Midlands spokesperson said: “It’s great to see so many people feel our offer is compelling and are applying for bus driver roles. Beyond the pay and benefits, being a driver means playing an important role in the community and keeping the West Midlands moving.”