MPs and councillors from across Oldham and Tameside were among those showing support for First Manchester bus drivers at a demonstration as strikes continue.
There were six days of industrial action in January during a dispute over pay for drivers, seeing all services at the Oldham depot cancelled, and more strikes are planned in February.
Oldham Council leader Cllr Arooj Shah was joined at the demonstration by local MPs Jim McMahon and Debbie Abrahams as well as Stockport’s MP Nav Mishra and Labour Party deputy leader Angela Rayner, who is also MP for Ashton.
Councillors Vimal Choksi, Ged Conny and Abdul Jabber were also at the event at the end of January and had the opportunity to speak to drivers about the effect low pay is having on their families.
The 300 bus drivers, who are members of the UK’s leading union Unite, are calling for a higher rate of pay than their current basic rate of £12.40 an hour, and want it backdated to August 1, 2021.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The support by Angela Rayner and local politicians is warmly welcome.
“They had the opportunity to speak directly to drivers who can explain the effect that low pay is having on them and their families and how the cost of living crisis is making their lives ever more difficult.
“Unite always puts the jobs, pay and conditions of its members first and our drivers at First Manchester will receive the union’s unwavering support until this dispute is resolved.”
Although the company’s depot is in Oldham it operates services across Greater Manchester and the strike action has seen severe disruption to the company’s services.
Unite remains committed to seeking a negotiated settlement to the dispute and talks are continuing.
Unite regional officer Dave Roberts said: “Our members are taking industrial action as a last resort due to the failure of First Manchester to make its bus drivers a fair offer.
“Unite has made it clear that if the company comes forward with an appropriate offer we will swiftly meet with them in order to seek to resolve this dispute.”
Further days planned for industrial action are February 1, 4, 7, 8, 9, 15, 17, 18, 21, 23 and 25.
Ian Humphreys, Managing Director of First Manchester, said: “Despite further talks and the efforts we have already made to meet what we were told were agreed demands, union officials have informed us the strikes will go ahead.
“The company has offered a substantial increase to £13 per hour, along with a lump sum payment.
“We have also offered to equalise the rate for school bus drivers with that for service bus drivers which would mean an even greater increase for this group of colleagues.
“I would like to apologise sincerely to all our customers in advance for the disruption and inconvenience this action will cause but want them to be aware of the situation so they can make plans for journeys they have to make on these days.
“Industrial action has huge impact on the community and damages confidence in using the bus, so I urge union representatives to reconsider their action and continue talking with us to resolve this dispute.”