Striking bus drivers head to Canada in bid to end dispute with Go North East

Representatives from Unite the Union in Toronto, Canada. Credit: Unite The Union

Striking bus drivers have crossed the Atlantic in their bid to end their ongoing dispute with Go North East.

Members of Unite the Union travelled to Toronto to meet with major shareholders in the company to seek assistance in securing a resolution.

They met with the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU) - part of the OPTrust, which owns a controlling stake in one of Go North East's parent companies and a 40 per cent stake in the other.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Unite will do whatever it takes to secure pay justice for our members at 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.”

Unite regional coordinating officer Suzanne Reid added: “Unite’s leverage campaign has already taken us from Tyneside to Toronto in the fight for fair pay and we won’t stop until Go North East acknowledge our members’ claim.”

Striking workers have been on picket lines since the indefinite strike started. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

The ongoing strike action has seen the vast majority of Go North East services in the region ground to a halt - though the company has since reinstated a 'skeleton' service on some routes, with buses being driven by office workers and drivers who have returned to work.

Go North East says the offer it has tabled for drivers would make them the best paid in the region and called on Unite to work constructively with them to resolve the dispute.

Efforts to restart talks have collapsed twice. The company says Unite demanded six-monthly pay increases, with rises backdated to July 2023, and another in July 2024 along with a further pay increase on 1 January 2024 - all of which would have to be higher than the current pay offer for them to accept the deal.

While the company has conceded that workers are paid less than their counterparts at Go North West, staff there work to different terms and conditions, but Go North East says Unite have not wanted to discuss a move to such terms as part of the negotiations.

The company also claimed a survey it commissioned shows seven in 10 people think the 10.3% rise put forward by the company is a fair offer.

Speaking on Tuesday, Ben Maxfield, Go North East business director, told ITV Tyne Tees: “Unite are, of course, free to talk to anybody they choose but the best way of settling this is for them to negotiate with us here in the north east on an urgent basis, rather than being in North America.

“The pay offer on the table is excellent and the best anyone can remember the union ever getting.  It will make our drivers the best paid in the region.

"Their hourly rate would rise by 10.3% to £14.15 and comes on top of a 10% rise they got a year ago. The increase would typically be worth at least £2,700 annually; those working 41 hours a week would earn over £30,000 per year.”

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