Arriva bus drivers across Kent have voted to strike, leaving the possibility of passengers being stranded without services.
The Unite union voted around 800 of its members at depots in Gillingham, Maidstone, Gravesend and Tunbridge Wells, as well as staff at its depots in Colchester, Harlow and Southend-on-Sea in Essex, after their arrival offered a 7.8% salary increase. .
An overwhelming majority – 96.5% of drivers – voted in favor of a strike. The participation rate was 83.2%.
The union said Arriva’s offer “presented what was effectively a pay cut as if it were a raise”. Inflation currently stands at 12.3%, as measured by the retail price index for July.
Arriva is a subsidiary of a German state-owned company, Deutsche Bahn, and the UK bus division has transferred a total of £560m to the parent company over the past 10 years.
Drivers earn an average of £12.12 an hour.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Arriva can well afford to come back with a better offer and must do so.”
She said: “Unite will not defend employers such as Arriva and Deutsche Bahn who are cutting jobs, wages and conditions for our members so they can continue to reap benefits during a cost of living crisis. .”
No date has yet been set for the strikes, but the union has said it will begin with a series of one-day strikes in hopes of forcing the company to raise its offer. A general strike remained a possibility.
Deutsche Bahn is one of the world’s largest transport companies, paying the German government the equivalent of £5 billion in dividends over the past decade.
Unite regional officer Janet Nobbs said: ‘Our members are not fooled by Arriva’s claims that he has no money.
“Arriva workers are increasingly struggling with rising prices – why should they suffer when Deutsche Bahn’s coffers are overflowing? Arriva must come up with an offer that our members can accept.”
Last month, Norman Kemp, the owner of the Nu-Venture bus company, and Michael Jennings, the regional business services manager at Arriva, both appeared before a joint meeting of Kent County councilors and councilors from borough to explain the difficulties their businesses were facing. .
Both bosses cited difficulties recruiting and retaining drivers, saying many had been tempted by the higher wages paid to drive trucks or delivery vans.
But they also explained the difficulty of making a profit when passenger numbers on buses were only around 80% of pre-Covid levels.
Mr Jennings said: ‘Covid has caused the greatest challenge we have ever faced.
Nu Venture is not affected by the strike vote.
An Arriva spokesperson said: “We remain focused on delivering a fair and affordable wage deal, as well as the sustainability of our vital bus services and networks across the region.”
Members of Unite’s Arriva are currently involved in an all-out and continuing strike in the North West of England, while members in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire have also voted to strike.
A poll on industrial action by Arriva workers in north London closes on August 26.