West Midlands Metro workers to strike for 53 days including pre-Christmas period over 'poverty wages'
West Midlands Metro workers have voted decisively to take strike action in a dispute over alleged "poverty wages".
It comes after a disastrous year for the company, as services were halted on three separate occasions in just nine months due to cracks in the trams.
Workers will now strike for 53 days between October and January, and almost continuously throughout November and December.
The first strike will take place on October 15 and the final day of action will be on January 5.
The strikes will have a particular impact on the run-up to Christmas, with passengers finding it difficult to use the service to get into Birmingham or Wolverhampton for festive shopping or to visit the Frankfurt Christmas Market.
All workers will be out on each day, with Unite union urging the company to say "whether they will attempt to run a service or not."
Unite represents over 176 workers on the West Midlands Metro and recorded a yes vote of 86 per cent on an 84 per cent turnout.
"They are paid poverty wages!" - Unite general secretary
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “It is disgraceful that despite our members undertaking extremely demanding and responsible jobs and ensuring that Birmingham and the Black Country keeps moving, they are paid poverty wages.
“Unite always fights tooth and nail for its members as it ensures that their jobs, pay and conditions are defended and enhanced. Our members at Midlands Metro will receive the union’s unswerving support.”
The workers are seeking a minimum pay rate of £27,000 for tram drivers/customer representatives and a £5,000 increase for all other grades, which can start at £21,537.
The tram drivers/customer representatives are currently paid £21,939, which Unite claims is one of the lowest rates in the UK for this kind of role.
Workers rejected a proposal of £25,250 for drivers/customer representatives and a 5.25 per cent increase for all other grades.
A metro worker, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Express & Star: "It's very important the strike must take place, because the staff at the metro have been underpaid for years - if not decades.
"And now with cost of living going through the roof, the need for much better pay is desperately needed more than ever.
"None of the staff want to impact customers and their lives but they must understand, we get paid awfully for the job we do - the early starts, the late nights, the lack of time we get with our families, and we are not are paid for any of that.
"And the hours and shifts have just got worse with the new extension up Broad Street."
Unite regional officer Sulinder Singh said: “Strike action will inevitably cause severe disruption and delays for metro passengers across Birmingham and the Black Country but this dispute is entirely of the company’s own making.
“Midland Metro has had every opportunity to come forward with a pay offer which tackled low pay and met our members’ expectations but it has chosen not to do so.”
West Midlands Metro will "update on affected services in due course.”
A West Midlands Metro spokesman said: “Naturally, we are disappointed at the ballot result and the union’s decision to escalate the dispute, despite our extensive efforts to reach an amicable agreement.
“Unfortunately, Unite has also declined to continue negotiations through the conciliation service ACAS and has now informed us of dates on which they intend to undertake industrial action. However, a fair pay offer, including an increase of more than 15 per cent – or more than £3,300 a year – for tram crew with a full year’s service, remains on the table.
“These proposals also include an increase for tram crew in their first year who are still receiving training, bringing these salaries into line with those on similar-sized tram systems in other UK cities. Other colleagues across the network will also receive a significant pay rise.
“This fair and comprehensive package was put forward following a difficult couple of years for the network, during which we have supported our colleagues through the pandemic and more recent service suspensions that were beyond our control.
“These challenges have inevitably had an impact on revenues, and we continue to operate with financial support from West Midlands Combined Authority. As a result, the proposals, which were initially accepted by Unite, represent our best offer in the current circumstances.
“Clearly, any industrial action risks impacting on the network’s post-pandemic recovery as well as causing unnecessary disruption for customers who we will update on affected services in due course.”
"I don't think it's unreasonable to ask for a fair pay deal" - Deputy leader of Wolverhampton Council
Councillor Stephen Simkins, deputy leader of Wolverhampton Council and cabinet member for city economy, said he backed those striking.
He said: "Everybody knows we're facing an absolute crisis in terms of cost of living and now the Government has caused us another issue with the finances.
"Now these workers want to be able not only to live but also to prosper. They are struggling to feed their children, they're struggling to heat their homes, struggling to eat, and I don't think it's unreasonable to ask for a fair pay deal.
"They are not asking to break the bank, they are asking to be able to live properly with all this uncertainty and if they get more money - then they will be able to spend more in the local economy which will give it a boost."
The full list of strike dates
October - 15, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26, 29, 31
November - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 29, 30.
December - 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 17, 18, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31.
January - 1, 2, 5.