Express & Star

West Midlands bus strike begins as drivers start continuous walk out in row over pay

Bus passengers are being warned to avoid National Express services from today as continuous strike action by drivers gets under way.

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Calls for better pay and more respect came from the drivers

More than 3,000 drivers who are members of the Unite union are downing tools in a row over pay. Over the weekend more than 70 per cent of whose who took part in a ballot over a 14.3 per cent pay rise decided to reject the offer.

Drivers have now walked out, with the strike continuing until a resolution is found.

Dozens of workers were out in force this morning including on the picket line at the National Express Wolverhampton garage on Park Lane.

Only a handful of National Express West Midlands buses will be operating, with bosses warning that those services are set to be busy and asking people to avoid travelling with their company if possible.

In an open letter to customers, managing director David Bradford said: "I’m disappointed to say that our drivers have rejected our 14.3 per cent pay offer and that means there will be a strike starting on Monday March 20, with some late buses on Sunday March 19 affected. Sadly we don’t know how long the strike will last.

"I am sorry for the disruption this is going to cause. Services will be very limited and, our advice is to avoid travel by National Express bus if possible, and check our website for live updates on which routes are running."

Mr Bradford said the company will aim to run as many buses as possible during the walkout, prioritising routes that serve hospitals. He also said the company will provide regular updates on which services are running and their timetables, promising a commitment to "communicate openly and honestly about what is running, as things change".

The company has warned passengers to avoid using the few buses that do continue to operate during the strikes

Transport bosses for the West Midlands have also warned that buses run by rival operators, as well as the West Midlands Metro tram services, are also expected to be busier than usual as people seek alternative ways to travel.

Explaining the decision by members to reject the ballot, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: "National Express is an extremely wealthy company and makes considerable profits from the hard work of our members, who are not paid enough for the difficult and stressful job they do. The company must come back with an offer our members can accept.

"Unite’s top priority is defending and improving our members’ jobs, pay and conditions and National Express’ workforce have their union’s full support during these strikes."

One driver, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Express & Star: "Drivers are in solidarity with the result. Many are fed up with how National Express West Midlands does not give them the recognition they feel they deserve, with regards to pay and all the grief they get daily just doing their job – and how (the company) has badly handed the negotiations.

"They strongly feel they are worth more than is being offered, they want a bit more but are not greedy at all. As well, it is about finally having the chance to legally stand up for themselves, because they are in a union they can do so in a way that doesn't mean they face a disciplinary for doing so."

As a result of the walkout, the following routes are the only National Express West Midlands services running from today:

  • 4 Birmingham - Solihull (via Sparkbrook, Tyseley, Acocks Green & Olton)

  • 5 West Bromwich - Sutton Coldfield (via Great Barr, Kingstanding & New Oscott)

  • 6 Birmingham - Solihull (via Sparkbrook, Sparkhill, Hall Green & Shirley)

  • 6 Dudley - Stourbridge (via Russells Hall Hospital, Brierley Hill & Amblecote)

  • 28 Heartlands Hospital - Great Barr (via Ward End, Castle Bromwich, Erdington, Old Oscott & Perry Beeches)

  • 51 Birmingham - Walsall (via Great Barr & Perry Barr)

  • 59 Wolverhampton - Ashmore Park (via New Cross Hospital & Wednesfield)

  • 87 Birmingham - Dudley (via City Hospital, Smethwick, Oldbury & Tividale)

  • 97 Birmingham - Chelmsley Wood (via Bordesley Green, Heartlands Hospital & Meadway)

  • 529 Wolverhampton - Walsall (via Willenhall)

  • X4 Birmingham - Falcon Lodge (via Aston Expressway, Erdington, Sutton Coldfield & Good Hope Hospital)

  • X21| Birmingham - Bartley Green (via Birmingham University, Selly Oak & Weoley Castle)

Temporary timetables for these routes are on the National Express West Midlands website.

Other bus operators will continue to run their regular services.

A spokesperson for Diamond Bus, which has several routes in the Black Country, said: "Diamond Bus, wishes to reassure our passengers that Diamond Bus services will not be affected by the strike action and will continue to operate as normal.

"For those National Express customers who will be affected by service disruption, Diamond provides a wide variety of regular bus services across the West Midlands, and we advise you to check our website for alternative services that may enable you to continue to your travel requirements and complete your essential journeys.

However, both companies have warned that National Express tickets will not be valid on other services.

National Express West Midlands is offering refunds to ticket holders, but won't pay additional costs incurred by customers forced to seek alternative methods of transport.

Colleges are also warning students to allow for more time as they try and make their way to classes.

Dudley College of Technology pupils have been told classes will take place as normal during the strike.

However, for transport to lessons, chief executive and principal Neil Thomas said: "Any student in receipt of a college National Express only bus pass who has to pay for a ticket on an alternative bus provider (such as Diamond) will have this expense reimbursed by the college. Students need to present their ticket to receive a cash refund.

"Details of the locations where tickets can be presented will be shared shortly. Students already in receipt of a multi-provider bus pass will be able to use any of these alternative routes using the existing pass."

He added: "If students have no alternative travel options available to them, we will be supporting with online access to classroom sessions. These should only be used by exception where travel is impossible. Your tutor will provide details on how to access online lessons and resources."

City of Wolverhampton College has told students: "Classes will continue as normal, but we are understanding of the disruption this may cause you. Please consider your journey in advance and discuss with your tutors how this may affect your attendance."