The stakes were dramatically raised in the Leeds bus dispute today as plans were announced for open-ended strike action starting next week.
Around 1,000 drivers and other staff at the First operator are due to walk out at 2am on Tuesday – with no time or date set for an end to the action.
The Unite union said the continuous stoppage was a response to what it claims is an “extremely aggressive” stance adopted by First management in the dispute over pay.
Unite said its branch secretary had been dismissed along with two other workers for what it called “legitimate trade union activity”.
A further 11 workers had been given final written warnings, said the union.
Next week’s strike follows three 24-hour walkouts at First since the middle of last month, each of which caused widespread disruption for bus users in the city.
Unite regional officer Phil Bown said today: “The atmosphere has badly deteriorated as the management has started to attack our members for carrying out legitimate trade union activity.
“So far, three people, including the Unite branch secretary, have been dismissed and 11 others have been given final written warnings.
“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 management needs to stop ducking and diving and commit to holding genuine and meaningful talks, otherwise this strike could go on for some time with an adverse impact for bus users in Leeds – something we have desperately sought to avoid.”
First Leeds managing director Paul Matthews said: “I’m very disappointed and deeply frustrated that Unite plan to cause such huge disruption for our customers in Leeds.
“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.
“My team and I will continue to do all we can to bring this dispute to an end with a very fair and reasonable pay offer for our hard working drivers but not one that will damage the future of the business and bring fare rises for our customers.
“I am sorry that Unite have chosen to put our customers through this, given we are committed to working with them to resolve this unnecessary dispute.”
Next week’s strike will not affect First’s services in Bradford, Huddersfield and Halifax.
The company is also aiming to keep some buses running on key routes in Leeds during the walkout.
Details of its proposed schedules will be made available on the www.firstgroup.com/leeds website.