More than 650 members of the Unite union have recorded a 96 per cent vote in favour of strike action following the company’s offer of a 4.1 per cent pay increase, far below the real inflation rate (RPI) which currently stands at 11.1 per cent.
Unite says that German-owned Arriva’s low pay across Yorkshire means bus workers are struggling to make ends meet amid the cost of living crisis.
Newly recruited bus drivers are paid only £9.78 an hour - just 28 pence above the minimum wage
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Arriva is part of a multi-billion company. It has no business demanding that workers get by on pitiful low pay so that its boardroom can get ever-richer.
"Arriva can easily afford to pay decently - it should do just that, or face industrial action.
“Unite’s members, like all workers, are being pummelled by the cost of living crisis - they cannot and will not accept a real terms pay cut.
Campaigners from Better Buses for West Yorkshire and Unite Community were outside Dewsbury Bus Station yesterday (Wednesday) asking the public to support many of the region’s bus drivers who are in dispute with their employer, Arriva
"Unite will be giving our members its full and total support until this dispute is resolved.”
Unite regional officer Phil Bown said: “Strike action will inevitably cause significant disruption and delays for the Yorkshire travelling public but this dispute is entirely of Arriva’s own making.
"Our members are already suffering from poverty pay and the company is trying to make the situation even worse.
“Even at this late stage strike action and the disruption it will cause can still be avoided if Arriva makes a realistic pay offer and returns to the negotiating table.”
Campaigners also argue that the drivers’ case is linked to a better service for passengers.
Gerry Lavery, campaigns co-ordinator from Leeds Wakefield Unite Community, said: “Services in some areas are being reduced by Arriva and driver recruitment is cited as an issue, so it’s important to pay drivers decent wages."
He added: “We asked passengers to support drivers and many happily signed our petition and wrote messages of support on our solidarity cards.”
Bus campaigners are very concerned about the way that passengers can be seriously affected by the way services are currently run.
A local businessman highlighted the serious consequences of a lack of reliable buses, saying: "My wife and I were at a local bus stop on the A61 near Wakefield, where a lady remarked that she had been late to work already three times in the week due to buses not turning up.
"Her boss had told her that if she was late again, then she would be sacked. Due to the need to catch a connecting service, she said she couldn't wait any longer and phoned a taxi. She remarked that it would cost her over £25."
The campaigners argue that experiences like these are why passengers will benefit from backing the drivers' action.
They say a drop in real wages has forced many drivers to leave the industry to seek better pay, which means Arriva do not have enough staff to run all the advertised services.
That, according to the activists, is when unreliability spikes and passengers are left having to pay the price in missed shifts, unexpected taxi fares, or even lost jobs.
Matthew Topham, Better Buses campaigner at We Own It, said: "Right now, drivers' pay is set at each depot and each private operator. It's left to the whim of companies obliged to maximise the benefits to their shareholders, not to local communities and businesses.
"If West Yorkshire’s Mayor follows Labour Mayors in Manchester, Liverpool and Cambridge to favour bringing buses into public control, we could guarantee a consistent wage across the region and prioritise driver pay, and reliability for passengers, over private profits."
Campaigners have pledged to continue pressing for better driver pay and to bring buses under public control.
Gerry added: “As campaigners, we won’t be going away until we have a decent bus service that enables people to travel easily to work, visit family and friends, get to appointments on time, go shopping and have a day out.
"In the 21st century, that’s not a lot to ask.”