A NEW round of talks aimed at ending a bitter industrial dispute at a major North East bus operator broke down on Monday without a resolution.

Unite union chiefs say that an indefinite strike that has crippled services run by Go North East will continue, after the latest negotiations on Monday (November 6) failed to produce a new pay deal.

Workers had already staged two week-long strikes before beginning a continuous walkout on October 28, following an overwhelming rejection of a 10.3 per cent pay rise offer.

The union has pushed for a 13 per cent increase for its 1,300-plus members, but has also complained that bus drivers at Go North West currently earn an hourly wage more than 20 per cent higher than their North East counterparts.

After meeting with Go North East bosses on Monday, in talks arbitrated by conciliation service Acas, Unite claimed that the public transport operator had “refused to budge”.

Go North East had announced earlier on Monday that it will run more than 80 buses this week, including school buses and a service for hospital workers in Newcastle, but the vast majority of its routes remain on hiatus. 

It has accused the union of being “intent on wide-scale disruption rather than dialogue”.

Unite regional officer Dave Telford said: “Our members’ resolve has not wavered, and we will not back down. Unite put various proposals on the table today for the employer to accept and every time Go North East just refused to budge.

“There is only one party currently wishing to negotiate and that’s Unite. I urge Go North East to put its hands in its pocket and come up with the money that it will cost them to end this dispute – pocket change for a company making £85m in profits.”

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service on Monday lunchtime, Mr Telford had said union members “just want to be treated fairly”.

Asked about the devastating impact the strikes are having on passengers, he added: “They [drivers] don’t want to be on strike, they want to be taking passengers around the North East to where they need to get to. This is a last resort and we have been frustrated because the employer will not address the pay disparity.”

Unite has claimed that the cost of meeting its demands would be approximately £238,000.

Ahead of Monday’s talks, Go North East released a statement confirming that it would be able to run some services this week – including school buses, an NHS hopper service carrying hospital staff between the Royal Victoria Infirmary and the Freeman Hospital, and the 327 bus linking Newcastle city centre to the DFDS ferry terminal.

Some of those services are being driven by office workers and managers with bus driving licences, to fill gaps left by the number of drivers on strike.

The company’s business director, Ben Maxfield, accused Unite of being “intent on wide-scale disruption rather than dialogue” ahead of Monday’s latest talks.

He added: “Our responsibility is to put the best possible offer on the table to try to prevent a strike. That is what we have done. We do not play games of brinksmanship with our passengers’ need to get to work, school or college, their ability to visit friends and family or their means of going out socially.

“Coming on the back of the 10 per cent increase our drivers got in July last year; our offer means they will have had a 20 per cent pay rise in just over a year.”