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National Express bus drivers in West Midlands vote to strike over pay

<span>Photograph: Anthony Devlin/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Anthony Devlin/AFP/Getty Images

More than 3,000 National Express bus drivers in the West Midlands have voted to strike over pay, starting on 16 March, the same day as the next RMT train strike.

The Unite union said members voted 96% in favour of industrial action, on a turnout of 72%.

The workers will begin “all-out continuous” strike action on Thursday 16 March, the union said, with industrial action to carry on until the dispute is resolved.

The National Express drivers will be joined by more than 200 engineers at the company who voted for industrial action over pay in January, bringing the total number of striking workers to more than 3,300.

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RMT union members from 14 train operators will stage a one-day strike on 16 March after rejecting pay offers from train operators and Network Rail. University lecturers at more than 150 universities and school teachers across England and Wales are also planning to strike that day.

National Express apologised to customers for the “significant disruption” that would be caused by the strike, and said it was continuing to talk to Unite in an attempt to avoid industrial action. It said it anticipated a “very limited service” running on strike days and that customers would be able to find updates on its website.

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Publishing its annual results on Thursday, National Express said it had “benefited from strikes elsewhere in public transport in 2022”, as its passenger numbers were boosted by people switching from rail because of the recent train strikes.

The company made an underlying pre-tax profit of £146m last year, up from £40m in 2021 when travel plummeted because of the Covid pandemic. Revenues rose 29% to £2.8bn.

National Express has reduced the price of single tickets to £2 for adults and £1 for children until 31 March, as part of the government’s Help for Households scheme.

Unite said National Express was offering its workers in the West Midlands a real-terms pay cut, despite the surge in profits. Some drivers earn £11.80 an hour while doing “an incredibly stressful job”, rising to £14.40 an hour after three years, Unite said.

The union’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “National Express is sitting on mountains of cash and can absolutely afford to give a pay rise to its staff that reflects rocketing living costs. It needs to do just that.”

National Express said it offered drivers a 14% rise initially, but the union countered that the deal was worth just 8%. Drivers have since been offered an 11.1% pay rise, while engineers have been offered 11.5%.

The strikes are expected to severely disrupt National Express services, which cover 93% of the West Midlands bus network, including in Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Walsall, Dudley and West Bromwich.

National Express said: “This is an extremely disappointing result. Since the ballot, we have offered the union a pay deal for drivers worth 13.4% made up of 11.1% for 2023 and a retention payment worth 2.3%. This is on top of 6% our drivers received in November. This will see the majority of drivers earn over £30,000.

“The union has turned it down without even giving our drivers a chance to vote on it. Only 60% of drivers voted in favour of industrial action on an out-of-date offer of 8.1%.”

Unite’s regional officer Sulinder Singh said: “National Express’s greed is the reason why the entire West Midlands bus network will be shut down and it bears the responsibility for the disruption that will be caused. Our members do not want to strike but National Express has left them with no choice. The company needs to put forward an offer that our members can accept – it can clearly afford to.”