Britain’s leading union crosses continents in sending delegation to Toronto, to resolve bus strike
LONDON — A British and Irish trade union has sent a groundbreaking delegation to Toronto, Canada, to secure support in a longstanding industrial dispute with the Go-Ahead Group in North East England.
Unite one of the largest in Britain and Ireland, has sent delegates, including bus reps involved in the dispute, to meet with the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU) to request its assistance in getting a fair resolution to the dispute.
Over 1,300 Unite members at the Go North East bus company have been on an all-out continuous strike for three weeks over pay and conditions at the company. The OPSEU pension fund, run by the OPTrust, owns a controlling stake in one parent company of Go North East and a majority stake in another (see notes to editors). As such the OPTrust potentially has a huge amount of influence in resolving the dispute.
Given the history of transatlantic trade union cooperation, Unite’s delegation is asking the OPSEU to call on OPTrust to intervene with Go-Ahead management to help resolve the dispute.
But, according to Unite, UK bus drivers have suffered severe attacks on their pay in the last 40 years. Bus drivers are now paid 14 per cent less in real terms than they were before the service was privatised in 1986. This has been exacerbated in the last 18 months as UK workers have suffered appalling inflationary pressures.
Bus drivers, engineers and office workers at Go North East have been campaigning for a new pay award that would reflect the high level of inflation in the UK and the cost-of-living crisis that many people are facing including higher energy bills and large increases in the cost of food.
But bosses at the bus company have refused to acknowledge their demands despite paying significantly higher wages to bus workers in its other subsidiaries: Go North East workers are paid £105 a week less than their colleagues in North West England, even though they have the same job.
Unite has calculated that the dispute could be resolved for less than a quarter of the CEO’s annual pay packet, or less than one per cent of the group’s £50 million in profits. However, local management at Go North East have refused to budge.
Unite members voted for strike action and have now been on continuous strike for three weeks, as well as having taken two previous weeks of strike action earlier this autumn.
In a letter to JP Hornick, the president of OPSEU, Sharon Graham, the Unite General Secretary has asked to work with OPSEU and the OPTrust to help bring the dispute to an end. Delegates from Unite will be meeting with Hornick in Toronto today and other unions later in the week.
Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham said: “I have made it clear that Unite will do whatever it takes to secure pay justice for our members in Go North East and that includes crossing continents to lobby the key financial players in the company.
“Unite will continue to step up this campaign until the dispute is resolved and these workers receive a fair pay rise.”
Notes to editors
Unite members are in dispute with Go North East, a subsidiary of The Go-Ahead Group, an international transport business. Go-Ahead is owned by two international transport firms: Kinetic, which has a majority stake, and Globalvia. OPTrust owns a controlling stake in Kinetic, plus a 40 per cent stake in Globalvia.
The members of the delegation will be available for interview on Sunday 19 November.
Notes to editors
Unite is the UK and Ireland’s leading union fighting to protect and advance jobs, pay and conditions for members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Sharon Graham.
For media enquiries ONLY please contact Unite senior communications advisor Barckley Sumner on 07802 329235.
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