Drivers’ strikes at First Dorset continue

Union blasts First’s offer as dispute over ‘poverty pay’ rumbles on; three more strikes confirmed

An increasingly acrimonious eight-month dispute over pay between First Dorset and union Unite, which represents drivers at the operator’s Bridport and Weymouth depots, shows no sign of concluding after talks between the two parties once again broke down last week.

Strikes continue at First Dorset’s depots in Bridport and Weymouth

Unite claims that drivers at the two depots are “the lowest paid First drivers in the whole of England.” It adds that First’s backdated offer of a 2.3% rise over two years, which would take pay to £9 per hour, is “insulting.” It has called three 24-hour strikes for this week.

First has offered to take the dispute to formal arbitration, where the offer of a 2.3% rise would remain its minimum position. Unite has refused the offer of arbitration, First adds.

“My team and I met with Unite officials for six hours of talks on Thursday (7 July) but we have not been able to find a solution,” says First Dorset MD Mark Reddy.

“Unite is demanding an inflation-busting increase that cannot be sustained by our business. We have continued to make fair and reasonable offers.”

First’s efforts at last week’s talks have been blasted as “a PR exercise” by Unite Regional Officer Bob Lanning.

“Talks proved fruitless as it soon became apparent that management were engaged in a PR exercise and had no intention of negotiating in an adult fashion,” says Mr Lanning, who adds that First has told Unite that the Hampshire and Dorset business is in “dire financial straits.”

The union says that it asked to see figures to back up the claim, but First was unable to provide them.

“This was an unsubtle PR stunt designed to put Unite in a bad light. It was not a genuine attempt to solve this eight-month dispute that is beginning to hit the tourist trade in Bridport and Weymouth,” says Mr Lanning. Unite also claims that First UK Bus is a “very profitable company”. It returned an operating margin of 6% in the year to 31 March.

During this week’s strikes, First says that it will run more than 90% of services in Bridport and Weymouth using managers and staff from other areas, as it says it has done during previous strikes.