Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Edinburgh bus driver strike 'risks public safety'

Lothian buses

A bus strike in Edinburgh may pose a risk to public safety, the firm's director has claimed, after drivers voted to reject a last-minute deal.

Lothian Buses say services may not run or will operate on a significantly-reduced basis on Friday.

The strike has been planned to coincide with the first day of the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe.

The Unite union had recommended that its 1,700 members accept a new deal following talks.

The proposal, which came amid a long-running dispute, included a 2.7% pay rise and new measures to address concerns over bullying.

This included bringing in external experts to assist management and the workforce.

Lothian Buses managing director Richard Hall told BBC Scotland: "It's hugely disappointing that Unite have brought this action at a time when Edinburgh is celebrating one of the largest festivals in the world.

"It brings huge risk to the business, the city and indeed Scotland. Its reputation on public safety is absolutely key critical for us."

'Too little too late'

Unite said its members would take discontinuous strike action during the Edinburgh Fringe and International Festival after the offer was rejected by 59.4%.

The union's regional industrial officer Lyn Turner said the strike action would begin at 03:00 on Friday.

"Unite's 1,700 strong Lothian Buses membership has democratically voted to reject the latest offer from management," he said.

Image caption If the deal is not accepted it will trigger an indefinite strike on 2 August

"There has been progress made in our negotiations through Acas but yesterday's vote is testimony to the fact that this was never about pay.

"The depth of feeling from our membership about the toxic management culture speaks for itself. Our members have considered the latest offer too little and too late.

"Unite remains committed to finding a resolution to the dispute and our door remains open for talks but as things stand the action will go ahead on the 2 August."

'Disappointed and confused'

When asked about contingency plans for the strike, Mr Hall said the firm's main approach was to urge drivers to return to work.

He added that the company remained committed to "taking whatever steps we can to avoid a hugely-damaging strike next week''.

"This is the second time a deal has been agreed between the company and the union only to be declined by the members," he said. "This is in spite of the fact it would have provided a significant pay rise as well as a series of additional initiatives to further enhance our engagement with staff.

"Yesterday we were again reassured by Union officials that they were confident that the deal would be accepted on the basis of their recommendation.

"We now need to understand from them why this was not the case and are keen to engage further as to how we can move forward."

A Lothian Buses tweet said customers remained its "absolute priority' and it would minimise disruption where possible.

Lesley Macinnes, Edinburgh City Council's transport and environment convener, said: "It is deeply regrettable that it has come to this and I know the prospect of disruption to the bus service at the busiest time of the year will be met with dismay right across the city.

"We are extremely disappointed the parties were not able to come to an agreement and will be seeking an urgent meeting to try and bring stability to the situation as soon as possible."

Unite has blamed the dispute on "poor workplace relations and a hostile culture".

In June, staff voted for strike action. More than 63% of union members took part in the ballot, with about 91.3% backing a walkout.

Talks at the arbitration service Acas then resulted in a deal which was rejected by the workforce, which includes 1,700 drivers.

The revised offer followed further discussions which took place last week.

The strike action will not affect Lothian Country or East Coast buses.

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