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From The Socialist newspaper, 22 July 2009

South Yorkshire First Buses strike over pay

It was a bad week for First Bus bosses in South Yorkshire. They lost a last ditch bid to get an injunction to stop a one-day strike going ahead and then were forced to suspend planned cuts to 28 services in Sheffield.

Alistair Tice

The strike on 10 July by 1,400 Unite union bus drivers in Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster, was in response to First Bus company's pay freeze.

Drivers are incensed that the company which made 122 million profit last year and increased shareholders' dividends by 10%, says they cannot afford a pay-rise because of the recession. Yet only a few weeks ago they made a massive bid to take over National Express.

South Yorkshire drivers want a 10% increase on the 9.13 pay rate to bring them up to the 10 an hour that First drivers in Leeds already get. But the company has announced a zero pay rise across the national group. So ballots are taking place across the group with a view to co-ordinating national strike action. South Yorkshire drivers have been the first to strike, to keep their ballot live, with another strike likely in August before co-ordinated action in September.

In last minute talks involving ACAS, First offered 2.95% but with strings that would have left drivers even worse off. One driver told me that the strings offer would have made him 4.40 worse off on his next day's shift alone.

Starter drivers only get just over 7 an hour with many never completing the 18 months to reach the higher pay rate due to stress and management bullying. One migrant worker told me that he couldn't support his family on that wage.

Pickets dismissed one manager's claim in the press that drivers could earn up to 30,000 a year. One driver said that he would have to work 70 hours a week, 365 days a year to earn that.

The strike itself was solid with none of the 72 drivers materialising that management said were prepared to work. About 100 drivers maintained a picket at Sheffield's Olive Grove depot throughout the day. Engineers and inspectors are also balloting against the pay freeze.

A Unite branch official told The Socialist: "As per usual the lads were great. No scabs as promised by management. Good coverage in the press except for the full-page advert taken out by the MD spouting lies again - once again wasting thousands of pounds that could have gone towards our pay rise!"

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In The Socialist 22 July 2009:

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