Bus services across Yorkshire could be thrown into chaos if 4,000 workers vote in favour of walkouts.
The union Unite has announced that it will be balloting members working for the First Group “imminently” as part of a dispute over pay, terms and conditions.
It includes drivers, engineers, cleaners and maintenance staff based at Bradford, Doncaster, Halifax, Huddersfield, Rotherham, Sheffield and York.
The union said shop stewards had yesterday told the company that members would be balloted for industrial action, including strike action.
But the company disputed this, saying it had received no official notification and refuted claims that it was taking an “aggressive stance” against its workforce.
Announcing its plans to ballot today, Unite said wage claims are not being settled, bosses drag their feet about arranging meetings with reps and the company is doing away with trade union offices where reps can sort out workplace problems before they escalate.
Unite regional officer Steve Clark said: “A total of 4,000 bus workers in Yorkshire have said ‘Enough is enough’ when it comes to turning the screw on their pay and employment conditions.
“There is a feeling that the uncertainty caused by last month’s Brexit vote has encouraged the management to take advantage of the current situation to roll-back on pay and conditions.
“If that is the case, First Group will have a real battle on its hands.”
First Bus divisional director Dave Alexander said the company had been very surprised to learn about the intention to ballot via local media.
“We’ve received no official notification and simply do not recognise the points raised in their statement to the media,” he said.
“We completely refute claims that we’re taking a more ‘aggressive stance against’ our workforce.”
He said the business remained committed to providing colleagues with fair salaries and competitive terms and conditions.
He said: “Nothing has changed post the recent EU Referendum in the way we treat our employees, or in our engagement strategies with colleagues through the trade unions. Indeed in the last couple of months we’ve reached wage settlements at or above current inflation levels with our employees in two of our three businesses (York and South Yorkshire) through our normal local negotiating process.
“We remain confident of achieving agreement at our West Yorkshire business and will continue to work hard to achieve this through due process.”
Mr Clark said calls for action had come from members themselves, with many looking to the strikes recently carried out by colleagues at the company’s Leeds depots in their own dispute over pay.
He said workers could not understand why the company was challenging established terms and conditions, such as walking time payments, when it had announced a £52 million profit for its UK-wide bus division last month.
“This is not just about our members and their living standards, but also preserving quality bus services for the travelling public in Yorkshire, often in rural areas,” he said.
“Make no mistake, if First Bus is allowed to erode our members’ conditions, the next thing will be reducing bus services, so they can squeeze the last ounce of profit from what should be a public service.”
The company said partnership agreements already in place or being established across Yorkshire would ensure stable, quality and value-for-money services.
Mr Alexander said: “We will continue with our strategies to grow our businesses and encourage more people to use the bus and, therefore, we completely reject Unite’s claim that we wish to ‘reduce’ services.
“We’ve carefully reviewed Unite’s media statement and simply cannot comprehend their rationale for balloting members. The claims are simply not true”.
“Having attempted to make contact with Unite without success, I’d urge the Union officials to contact our local Managing Directors directly, get round the table as quickly as possible so that we can better understand their concerns.”
Today’s announcement from Unite comes less than a week after its members working for First in Leeds called off a planned strike as a gesture of “good faith”.
Around 1,000 drivers and other staff at the Bramley and Hunslet Park depots had been due to stage a walkout over pay on Monday.
Members had already held three days of strike action as part of the continuing dispute.
Fresh talks with the company are hoped for in the coming weeks.