Patients in Dundee have been issued a warning as hundreds of bus staff kick off what is expected to be a three month-long strike.
Around 200 members of Unite at Xplore Dundee – including drivers, duty managers, platform staff, and administrative staff – walked out on Monday morning.
The strikes, confirmed last week, are expected to run until September 3.
During this period, most services will run on modified Sunday timetables, which means buses will run every 30 or 60 minutes during the day on core routes.
Services will stop after 7pm but some extra early morning journeys have been added, including to and from Ninewells Hospital.
In a recent ballot, the bus operator’s workers supported strike action by 93% on an 88.6% turnout, amid a pay dispute.
It comes after a 7% pay offer by Xplore Dundee was rejected by members, and Unite said “no progress” was made during a negotiation mediated by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service on Friday.
The union also claimed that the operator’s sales had grown by 10.4% since 2017 – reaching £17.2m last year – while average employee wages have fallen by 14% in the same period.
Parking at Ninewells may be ‘limited’
NHS Tayside has asked patients with hospital or healthcare appointments in Dundee to plan ahead if their journey will be affected by the strike action.
Some extra early morning journeys have been added by Xplore, including to and from Ninewells Hospital.
The health board said all appointments would continue as usual, and patients who need to reschedule should contact the phone number on their appointment letter.
Those who choose to travel to Ninewells Hospital by car should keep in mind that car parks may be busy, and should leave plenty of time to find a parking space safely.
Claims Xplore workers do not receive overtime or sick pay
Unite the union claimed that workers in other bus companies have more competitive rates of pay, and they have access to overtime rates of pay and a company sick pay scheme, in contrast with Xplore Dundee.
The union’s general secretary Sharon Graham said: “If Xplore Dundee want to avoid strike action they can do so by significantly improving their pay offer.
“Surely it’s recognised that the union members’ vote for industrial action is an indication of their determination to get a better deal.
“Xplore Dundee can pay more and so they have the means by which to resolve this dispute. Unite will always back our members in the fight for better jobs, pay and conditions.”
Dougie Maguire, Unite regional coordinating officer said: “Xplore Dundee management in a last ditch attempt to stop the imminent strike action sought talks with us through Acas. It was a cynical move on the last day possible when they have had months to resolve this dispute.
“The only thing that will prevent strike action from happening is if the company significantly improve their pay offer. It’s really that simple.
“Either the company value their workers and are prepared to pay them the going rate, which they can well afford, or do they instead want strike action.”
McGill’s ‘refutes’ the narrative
McGill’s Group, Xplore’s parent company, said it had made several improved offers following the 7% deal cited by Unite, but these were all rejected.
Ralph Roberts, CEO at McGill’s, said: “In an attempt to avert the strike action planned by Unite the Union at our Xplore Dundee business from Monday, June 12, we invited a meeting with ACAS to try and reach agreement.
“This took place on June 9, and we amended our offer to try and meet the union’s aspirations.
“Unfortunately, the Union are unwilling to put this offer before their members and we couldn’t reach agreement. The strike will now go ahead as planned. McGill’s will endeavour to minimise the disruption to our customers as much as possible by running a modified Sunday timetable.
“We strongly refute the narrative being put forward by Sharon Graham and Dougie Maguire from Unite, who have sold a false expectation to their members and will leave the Dundee public to pick up the pieces of their unreasonable demands. We will be writing to our staff in the coming days to reiterate the improved offer that was made.”
Previously announcing contingency timetables to keep services flowing, Xplore Dundee apologised to customers for the disruption.
In a statement, the firm said: “We are deeply sorry to the people of Dundee for this regrettable situation.
“We have worked hard to offer a fair 7% pay rise to our drivers.
“This is an offer which has already been accepted across the rest of the McGill’s Bus Group – not only by our other teams across Scotland, but also by the engineering team at our Xplore Dundee depot too.
“You have our commitment that we will work hard to minimise the impact of this disruption – and we thank you for your patience and understanding in the meantime.”