Commuters and pupils returning to school have been told to expect continued disruption this month as a raft of strikes have been planned by buses and train operators.
On Monday this week, drivers and workers at Arriva – the largest bus operator in Kent – walked out over pay, seeing nearly all its bus services in Tunbridge Wells cancelled.
The industrial action saw around 600 workers who belong to the Unite union down tools at depots across Kent including in Kingstanding Way, Tunbridge Wells as well as at depots in Northfleet, Gillingham and Maidstone.
Further strike action is also planned for next Friday (September 16) as well as Tuesday, September 20 and Friday, September 30.
The walk outs, which were balloted for last month, had been delayed while negotiations with Unite officials and Arriva bosses took place.
But in a statement last week, the bus company, which is owned by German firm Deutsche Bahn, conceded that talks had broken down, despite a 7.8 per cent pay offer.
The statement read: “Despite further negotiations with our union partner this week, we are extremely disappointed for all our customers to confirm that industrial action will take place across Northfleet, Gillingham, Maidstone and Turnbridge Wells on Monday, September 5 and on Friday, September 16.”
The statement continued: “Arriva remains committed to resolving the industrial action and would encourage Unite to ballot on this latest pay offer.
“We will continue to keep our customers and stakeholders updated. We apologise for the inconvenience this will cause across the region, particularly as our schools return for a new academic year.”
The only buses Arriva were able to put on in the town on Monday were some services on the 6X route, which serves Pembury Hospital.
Yesterday, when Arriva services began running again, parents of school children reliant on the service complained to this newspaper about buses being ‘completely overrun’ and ‘crowded’ with many school pupils unable to board full buses.
‘Disruption to rail services is likely to go into the next day when the second Arriva bus strike takes place’
Unite officials said staff voted to strike after they claimed Arriva’s pay offer was a ‘substantial pay cut’ compared to the current rate of inflation.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Offering a pay cut presented as a rise is completely unacceptable. Arriva can well afford to return with a better deal and needs to do so.
“Unite will not stand for employers, such as Arriva and Deutsche Bahn, driving down our members’ jobs, pay and conditions so they can keep raking in profits during a cost-of-living crisis.”
The bus strike came after the train drivers’ union ASLEF also announced last week they are planning to walk out at 12 train companies next Thursday (September 15).
The railway industrial action may see Tunbridge Wells station closed as with previous strikes, as Southeastern, which provides train services in the region, are among companies that will be affected.
Disruption to rail services is likely to go into the next day (Friday, September 16), when the second Arriva bus strike takes place, leaving few public transport options to the public.
Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, said the latest walkout was also triggered by the current inflation rate.
He added: “They want train drivers to take a real-terms pay cut – to work just as hard this year as last, but for 10 per cent less.
“Because inflation is now in double figures and heading higher – much higher, according to some forecasts – and yet the train companies have offered us nothing.”
Train drivers earn an average salary of £48,500 per year.
The industrial action follows strikes by the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union earlier this summer, which saw Tunbridge Wells station closed on a number of occasions.
The RMT general secretary Mick Lynch has hinted at further industrial action by his union that walked out twice last month in the coming weeks and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) has also announced that its members at nine train operating companies as well as Network Rail (NR) will walk out from midday on September 26.
BT workers belonging to union the Communication Workers Union (CWU) also walked out last Wednesday (August 31) in a second round of industrial action that saw picketers at the former BT exchange in St John’s Road, which is now the office of the CWU.
That industrial action coincided with a national CWU walkout at Royal Mail, also last Wednesday, that saw all letter deliveries cancelled for the day.