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6 July 2016
Dorset First Group bus drivers' strikes continue for fair pay
Weymouth and Bridport bus drivers are going into their fourth week of strikes as bosses remain "stuck in a groove" and demonstrate no intention of changing their position in this pay dispute. With more than 110 drivers of First Hampshire & Dorset Ltd joining the strike, and with nearly 90% of drivers having voted in favour of strike action, it is clear important issues are on the line.
Unite the Union has been negotiating with First since December 2015 about trying to improve pay and conditions for the drivers in Weymouth and Bridport. Unite regional officer Bob Lanning has explained how the drivers have become fed up with the 'unfair and unequal treatment being meted out by the bosses, year in, year out.'
With the managers not appearing to acknowledge the rights and needs of their workers during this period of negotiations, the workers feel that striking is one of the last ways they can get their message across.
First Group is an extremely profitable UK company which boasted a profit of £52 million in its bus division. The company can afford to give its Bristol drivers a 13% pay increase, but for its employees in Weymouth and Bridport the deal on the table is only 2.3% over two years from August 2015.
Weymouth and Bridport drivers earn around £8.80 an hour while First Group drivers in Yeovil are on £9.50 an hour. Drivers working for rival firms in Bournemouth and Poole earn nearly £2 an hour more. This is clearly not a fair system - First drivers in Weymouth and Bridport are being discriminated against.
The strike has arisen out of frustration the drivers are feeling due to how they have been pushed against the wall as a result of years of insulting pay increases, which do not match the responsibility of their job.
They feel angry and let down and are now in revolt against what can only be described as 'poverty wages'. Unite has made clear its door is always open for talks, but in order to rectify this situation management will have to come to the table with a constructive offer which matches that of other drivers in the First Group domain.
The disruption to the travelling public should not be put on the drivers themselves but on the management who for seven months have refused to acknowledge the standing of their employees and appear to just be dismissing the legitimacy of their claims for a decent living wage.
Eager to get a better understanding of their cause I attended a picket line at the bus depot on Edward Street in Weymouth. Peter Hughes, regional secretary of Unite South West, explained what the drivers are going through and the causes of the strike:
"This is about the way the bus drivers are being detrimentally paid across the whole south west of the country and the poor conditions they are subjected to. First Bus are making a £58 million profit but the wages they are paying here are probably below the living wage.
This is ridiculous for highly trained and skilled people whose livelihood depends on a decent wage. These bus drivers are responsible for transferring millions of people every year. The holiday season is coming up in Weymouth and what they're trying to do now is ship in managers from around the country to take work off of our membership here, to make sure the buses still run.
This is a terrible injustice and it's putting people's livelihood at risk. Obviously we care about the health and safety of our passengers. If people don't know the routes then there are going to be problems."
He added: "As a fighting-back union we make sure to provide strike pay for all our members who take on industrial action. The last thing we want is to see our members out of pocket for taking companies on for injustices against them. We will back our members 100%."
The measures these drivers have been forced to take demonstrates a major problem throughout the whole of Britain. The wages and conditions of a lot of major professions are causing real issues for the livelihood of a lot of people. The crippling austerity we are living under has meant many people feel they are left with no other choice but to protest and strike.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 6 July 2016 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.
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