Update 25 July: Unite said on Monday morning it had suspended the strike and members would be voting on a new improved two-year pay deal over the next fortnight.
A thousand bus workers in Leeds will strike continuously from next Tuesday (26 July) over a long running pay dispute, which has since escalated, with bosses at First Group.
Members of the Unite union have already held two 24-hour strikes over pay, claiming that First Bus drivers in Halifax earn nearly £2 an hour more than their Leeds counterparts.
The union has since accused bosses of taking an ‘extremely aggressive’ stance, sacking a Unite branch secretary and two other workers for ‘legitimate trade union activity’.
‘A further 11 workers had been given final written warnings,’ the union said.
First confirmed that these dismissals have taken place but said the allegation that they were related to union activity was 'completely wrong'. It also said that colleagues have the right of appeal and so the matter is not closed.
Unite regional officer Phil Bown said: ‘We are calling for the immediate reinstatement of the dismissed colleagues and the rescinding of the final written warnings, otherwise these cases will end up before an employment tribunal.’
The union also highlighted that there are several industrial problems affecting First Group across the UK – with bus disputes in Glasgow, Weymouth and issues affecting 4,000 other bus workers across Yorkshire.
Paul Matthews, managing director for First Leeds, said: 'We completely refute claims that the company is taking an "extremely aggressive stance" against Unite.
'I can confirm we have undertaken disciplinary action in relation to a number of very serious allegations that were of a nature that required us to bring them to the attention of the police. We have assured all of our staff that we must all respect each others' opinions and, in line with the law and our own policies, must never behave in a manner that is in any way abusive, intimidating, harassing or threatening.
'We are not in a position to comment on any individual cases but I can confirm that no members of staff have been disciplined for taking part in industrial action or for any legitimate trade union activity.'
First Leeds – the local division – also disputed the unfavourable pay comparisons across the region labelling them ‘absolute nonsense’ and claimed it had most recently offered an extra 38p per hour to drivers and hosts, equating to an increase of 3.4% for a two-year period.
It added the ‘unjustified action’ would affect tens of thousands of passengers in and around the city but the company planned ‘to provide vital services on key corridors for customers’.
Paul Matthews added: ‘This is not a last resort as Unite claim. Not only do we have a planned meeting before Tuesday to try and resolve the dispute, but Unite have repeatedly refused to let all staff vote on our above inflation offers. Unite seem intent on strikes supported by their war chest to pay drivers to strike.’
First Leeds operated 25% of the normal level of service on the last day of strike action. Updates on services operating on strike days will be available on line at www.firstgroup.com/leeds.