A bus strike involving around 650 drivers is set to go ahead after talks between their bosses and union representatives did not reach an agreement.
Drivers in the Unite trade union working for bus operator Arriva have voted to go on strike for seven days from Sunday, December 16, in what the company has said is a "bid to create massive transport disruption across the North."
Durham, Yorkshire, Cleveland, and Teesside will be affected.
An ACAS meeting between Arriva management and trade union representatives held yesterday failed to reach an agreement, with the firm stating Unite's members have made a 20%-plus pay demand.
Drivers at depots in Durham, Redcar, Whitby, Darlington and Stockton voted unanimously to back industrial action in November, resulting in the planned seven-day strike during the pre-Christmas period.
The firm says this is "intended to create maximum travel difficulties for workers, school children, festive period shoppers, local businesses and the elderly."
The company added its management has urged drivers to reconsider their position, and has tabled an improved pay offer worth over 7.5% for drivers.
Arriva Durham County drivers currently - before the 7.5% offer made to them by management - earn well above the average working wage for hourly paid workers in the region and have never been subject to any management imposed pay freezes or below-inflation pay settlements that so many other workers in the region have faced.
Unite has said in the wake of the talks that its "door is open" for further discussions.
Arriva managing director for the region, Nigel Featham, has appealed for common sense to prevail in an effort to avert the strike. “We urge our drivers to re-consider this extreme action that hurts our passengers, our employees and, ultimately, our ability to make pay increases.
"In our view a 20%-plus pay demand is excessive, unreasonable and ill-timed in the present economic climate.”
If Unite refuses to reconsider its position and presses ahead with industrial action Arriva will post full details of routes to be affected on its website, social media and help line in order to keep the public informed.
Unite’s demands not only cover increased pay but also a reduction in driving hours for their members together with the introduction of paid meal breaks for all drivers.
If met, Unite’s demands would increase the bus operator’s overall wage bill by 21%.
Arriva says in its own communications on the strike Unite has omitted mentioning their 20%-plus demand and is instead pushing an unsubstantiated claim that drivers working for Arriva Durham County Ltd are paid less than Arriva drivers in other UK regions.
It added while headline hourly rates can vary across the UK a number of other factors, such as driver benefits, length of service and cost of living indices for different regions, have to be taken into account in order to achieve a true comparison.
Unite regional officer Bob Bolam said: “We had talks with the management of Arriva County Durham Ltd yesterday under the auspices of the conciliation service, ACAS.
“The company made an offer on pay and Unite made a counter offer, which the management considered and declined the proposal.
“In the meantime, we are preparing for the week long strike action due to start on Sunday, December 16.
“However, we appreciate that such action will cause massive disruption to the travelling public in the north east in the run-up to Christmas, so Unite’s door is open for constructive talks 24/7.”