Unite votes for strikes at Optare in pay dispute

Members of the Unite union at Yorkshire-based bus manufacturer Optare have voted for strikes in a pay dispute.

The move comes against a background of a collapse in the UK bus market. All three UK manufacturers are seeing new bus orders cancelled, due to the dramatic fall in bus passengers.

Unite, which says it has “more than 100 members” at the Sherburn in Elmet plant, says they voted 73% in favour of strike action and industrial action short of a strike at Optare’s factory.

Optare employs 330 people, of which 161 (including 29 full-time equivalents) are engaged in bus production. It currently has orders from First and Tower Transit.

Trade union Unite says this is over the company’s “broken promise” to provide a pay rise for 2019 and 2020.

Optare says it is in “close talks with its employees and their representatives.” Unite says Optare has refused to honour an August 2019 pledge to implement a pay rise by November 2019 and repeatedly postponing planned pay negotiations.

A continuous overtime ban will begin on 15 October and will be followed by a series of 48-hour discontinuous stoppages that will limit production.

Optare, the UK’s third largest bus builder, does not publish recent sales figures, but the UK’s new bus market has collapsed due to COVID, with no new orders being placed.

In Q2 2020 only 120 new buses were registered in the UK, down from 582 in Q2 2019 – a fall of 80% – and forward orders are even worse.

Optare’s most annual recent figures (2018/19) show that Optare delivered 246 buses, and reported a £8.9m loss (after tax) on a revenue of £49.1m.

Of the UK’s two other bus builders, Wrightbus is significantly smaller since its collapse in September 2019, with the loss of 1,200 jobs. It was bought out of administration by Jo Bamford, and has downsized.

In the face of the market collapse Falkirk-based ADL – the UK’s largest bus and coach (Plaxton) builder – has been forced to shed 650 jobs at its Falkirk and Scarborough sites, and is closing its Guildford chassis factory.

Unite regional officer Richard Bedford says: “The decision to strike is never taken lightly, especially in the current climate, but our members have reached the end of their tether with Optare’s point blank refusal to honour its word.

“Optare’s staff, who are paid well below industry standard, are loyal and put their all into the company. They are simply asking for a reasonable pay rise and have been pushed into taking this action because of Optare’s broken promises.

“The situation has been made worse because staff have agreed to defer pay negotiations on a number of occasions at the company’s request.

“Their good faith has been rewarded with the runaround resulting in a complete refusal to provide the promised pay increase.

“There is still time to avoid disruption to the business and Unite is calling on Optare to get back around the table to find a solution.”

The Optare says: “Optare is in close talks with its employees and their representatives.

“We hope to achieve an appropriate agreement to ensure a sustainable future for the company. But as a matter of policy, we do not comment about any actions under consideration by union representatives.”

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