Stagecoach picket line. Photo: Unite North West
Stagecoach picket line. Photo: Unite North West

Neill Dunne, Liverpool Socialist Party

Stagecoach bus drivers, represented by Unite, went out on strike in Liverpool on 4 July after originally accepting a pay offer, but unwilling to compromise on a backdating system which has been in place.

Hundreds of professional bus drivers, considered key workers on the front line during the pandemic, are no longer given the same status when it comes to pay offers in a time of a cost-of-living crisis.

Dave Roberts, regional officer for Unite, explains the struggle: “The company turns over £50 million annually and has just been acquired in a £600 million takeover, so there’s money for bosses’ payouts, shareholders and dividends, but ask them to honour backdating at the same wage increase offer, and they say they can’t afford it”.

It’s clear how the strike will affect the Liverpool region and surrounding areas as the two big bus companies in the city, Stagecoach and Arriva, have carved up the bus routes, allowing each firm to control the majority of certain areas.

For example, no main routes operate in or out of Kirkby by Arriva, and Stagecoach run, virtually all of the services, whereas Arriva dominate other areas like Netherton and Huyton. So Kirkby will lose all services on strike days, but the service has struggled this past few years and the passengers are supportive of the strike.

A Kirkby resident explained: “Prices have gone up, why won’t they pay the drivers the skilled wage and increase it as expected. A driver was brutally beaten up this past week.”

A Unite rep explained the importance of bus drivers: “The bus companies have a lot of business in the city, entering city centre bus terminals and the airport, so with that comes responsibility. This is a public service that Stagecoach are only stewards of, but make vast profits.”

Just like the rail strikes by RMT members, the bigger picture must be looked at. All depot staff are important cogs in the machine, and that includes cleaners, refuelling staff and catering staff.

Unite members are expecting to be held to the highest standards that the public expect of the service, and that means professional drivers on a clean bus. On future action, Dave Roberts confirmed: “The next strike date for the Gillmoss staff is 15 July. That gives Stagecoach eleven days to meet the demands of the workers.” Arriva bus workers in Unite and GMB in the North West have also voted for strike action over pay.