AN indefinite strike shutting down all Go North East bus services is underway after workers rejected a new pay offer.

Members of the Unite union voted against accepting a proposed 10.3 per cent pay rise, which it called “insulting”.

Unite has called for its drivers to be paid the same rate as those at Go North West, where the average hourly wage is £15.53.

The company’s latest pay offer would have taken driver wages here to £14.15 per hour.

Go North East also tabled a guaranteed above-inflation pay increase next year to try and avert the all-out strike.

In a ballot of more than 1,300 Unite union members, an overwhelming 81 per cent voted to reject the latest pay offer put forward by the company – on a 93 per cent turnout. 

Unite regional officer Mark Sanderson said: “We have repeatedly asked Go North East for a fair pay increase and again and again dragged their feet and refused to make a decent pay offer.

"We have drivers pushed to the brink of tiredness, working all hours God sends and skipping meals to make ends meet – yet their employer shows nothing but callous disregard for their wellbeing."

No Go North East services, aside from contracted school buses, will operate in the region until further notice.

A continuous walkout by drivers, engineers, maintenance workers and depot crews began on Saturday, October 28.

There have been warnings the mass industrial action will cause “untold damage” for passengers who rely on Go North East buses and who endured two week-long strikes in October. 

Go North East business director Ben Maxfield said the operator was “baffled” by the overwhelming ‘no’ vote.

Under the law, workers taking industrial action have legal protection for 12 weeks – after which they can be dismissed. As Unite members at Go North East began their first strike week on September 30, that 12-week period would end on December 22.

Mr Maxfield claimed that Go North East had met “each and every one” of the union’s demands and that it was “hard to understand” why the strike was proceeding.

Alistair Ford, of the North East Public Transport Users Group, said: “We urge the bus company and the union to engage seriously to resolve the dispute as soon as possible. We also, however, understand the concerns of bus drivers and their demand for an improved pay offer.

"Bus driving is a skilled profession and wages should reflect that. Lothian Buses in Edinburgh, owned by local councils, pays their drivers up to £18 an hour compared to the £14 being offered by Go North East. Our transport system and the safety of passengers relies on a well-paid and well-trained workforce if it is to be sustainable in the future.”