Lothian Buses could be off Edinburgh streets ‘within weeks’ after staff back strike action

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UNION leaders have warned buses could be taken off Edinburgh’s streets within weeks after a huge majority of Lothian staff who took part in a consultation backed strike action.

Unite confirmed it will now formally ballot its members for industrial action after revealing the result of a three-week long consultative ballot. In the ballot, 94 per cent of Unite members who voted indicated support for industrial action, although Unite has not revealed how many staff took part in the vote.

Lothian Buses staff have backed strike action. Picture: Greg Macvean

Lothian Buses staff have backed strike action. Picture: Greg Macvean

Tensions have been building since December when a driver was sacked and around 10 others suspended over posts on a closed Facebook group amid claims of bullying and harassment by management at the council-owned company.

The latest move follows a breakdown in negotiations between unions and management through the arbitration service ACAS. Lothian Buses has accused the union of being unwilling to engage and rubbished claims of bullying and “hostility”.

Unite say Lothian Buses axed time off for them to carry out union duties and warned industrial action was now looming.

Unite regional industrial officer, Lyn Turner, said: “The consultative ballot results have come out and we will take stock. We remain open to discussions but the hostility (of managemennt) has put a marker down.

“If we do go ahead with industrial action it could be from buses not being on the road to working to rule. The last thing we want to do is take industrial action, but if our arms are being tied by the company, then we will have no choice than to use all options available to us.”

He added: “We have a number of outstanding issues in relation to procedural agreements, including on bullying and harassment. This is illustrated by the decision to remove facility time for the two senior Unite representatives. This decision in our view is trade union victimisation.

“Unite has repeatedly warned that unless this catalogue of issues were addressed there would be overwhelming support to move towards an industrial action ballot. It’s disappointing it has come to this but the consultative ballot result clearly shows that our members are prepared to do whatever it takes to get Lothian Buses to understand the strength of feeling.”

Lothian Buses said: “Despite the fact that the union and the business attended talks with ACAS last week, Unite thus far seem unwilling to engage in serious discussion.

“We absolutely refute any allegations of bullying. The branch chair and secretary are allocated four days per month to attend to their union duties - time which is paid for by Lothian and is way above what we are required to provide by law. We are at a loss to understand why the union hierarchy is intent on pursuing this damaging course of action that has the potential to impact on our customers.”