BUS workers are set to vote on a new pay offer aimed at averting an indefinite strike at one of the North East’s biggest public transport operators.

Go North East announced on Wednesday (October 25) that it has tabled what it calls a “milestone” offer to try to end a bitter industrial dispute that has caused massive disruption for passengers over recent weeks.

Members of the Unite union have already staged two week-long walkouts that have brought bus services around the region to a halt and are due to begin a continuous strike starting this Saturday, October 28.

The bus company announced it has now offered a 10.3 per cent rise that would see drivers paid £14.15 an hour, alongside a guaranteed above-inflation pay increase next year too, which the operator says would make its drivers the best-remunerated in the region.

Unite confirmed that it will now ballot its 1,300-plus members at Go North East on whether to accept the new deal.

The union has complained that the average age for a Go North East driver is just £12.83 per hour, compared to £15.53 for drivers at Go North West – a rate that the company’s new offer still does not match.

The union’s ballot will close at 12 noon on Friday, just 12 hours before the indefinite strike action involving drivers, engineers, maintenance workers and depot crews is due to begin.

Go North East’s business director Ben Maxfield said: “An end to strike action would bring a huge sense of relief. Staff have been worried sick about the damage a 12-week stoppage will cause, and passengers face massive and unnecessary disruption to their daily lives.

“We have spent a lot of time listening to colleagues and worked collaboratively with the union to fine-tune our pay proposals. We are proud that this milestone move will see our drivers top the earnings league in the North East.”

He added: “We are urging all our employees to support the deal so we can get back to focusing on providing the high quality, reliable and growing bus transport network the region deserves.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said last week that Go North East workers were being given a “raw deal” compared to drivers doing the same job in Greater Manchester.

“Meanwhile Go Ahead reaps massive profits, pays its CEO a huge salary and then pleads poverty. The sums just don’t add up. Our members aren’t asking for the moon– they just want a fair day’s pay. And Unite will be backing them every step of the way.”

Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon, who chairs the North East Joint Transport Committee, has been among those calling for a resolution to the dispute.

Last week he called the strikes “enormously damaging” for the region and called for the two parties to come to a settlement.