There could be many more bus cancellations on the way in Ayrshire as potential strike action looms at Stagecoach, with the company being accused of offering below inflation pay to workers.

Unite the Union say Scotland’s major bus routes could be brought to a ‘halt’ this autumn if 1,500 Stagecoach Group workers vote for industrial action over the pay dispute.

Workers at major bus depots including Angus, Ardrossan Ayr, Brodick, Cumbernauld, Dumfries, Dundee, Fife, Inverness, Highlands and Islands, Kilmarnock, and Perth are being balloted, as of yesterday (September 21).

If workers vote for industrial action then major bus routes, remote local communities, and events are expected to be ‘severely disrupted’.  

Unite say strike action could begin as early as next month.

Key to their complaints is the claim that Stagecoach, which operates in practice through various local bus companies, is offering below-inflation pay offers to workers across Scotland.

They claim that the company is extremely profitable and can afford to dish out a bit more to its workers.

Stagecoach’s latest accounts reveal that the Group made a profit of £58.4m, and it has over £875m of available liquidity.

Unite has demanded Stagecoach meet its ‘fair’ pay claim of the Retail Price Index inflation figure (3.8 per cent - July) plus 1 per cent made by Unite. 

The workers involved in the dispute are drivers, engineering staff, administrative workers, and cleaners. 

Dougie Maguire, Unite regional coordinator, said: “Stagecoach’s stance has been nothing short of shocking, and it has infuriated the workforce who have continued to work diligently throughout the Covid pandemic. 

"The Stagecoach Group is extremely profitable. It also directly benefits from millions of pounds of public funds every year through various Scottish Government schemes, not to mention benefiting from the UK Government’s furlough scheme for the last 18 months.”

“If Stagecoach does not come to their senses, then many of the nation’s major bus routes will grind to a halt if our members vote for industrial action.

"Remote local communities and showcase events such as the COP26 climate change conference will be severely disrupted. This will be solely down to the Group’s point-blank refusal to make our members a fair pay offer. The solution is simple: give our members the pay rise they deserve or face widespread industrial disruption.”

A spokesperson for Stagecoach in Scotland said: "Local people who depend on buses to get to work and access public services, as well as local businesses struggling to recover from the pandemic, will be extremely angry at the threat of completely unnecessary disruption to their bus services. 

"The comments by the union at national level do not reflect the continuing positive discussions that we are having with local Unite representatives as we jointly work towards agreeing pay deals. 

"The threat of strike action is even more puzzling as we have already agreed a pay package with Unite covering members in several other parts of Scotland and they remain happy with the deal. In addition, union representatives have recommended their members accept the package that we have offered in the west of Scotland. 

"The reality is that Covid-19 has resulted in bus passenger numbers being only 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. As a result, services being run by all bus operators require support from the Scottish Government, which does not cover pay awards. This means that passenger fares are significantly short of what is needed just to even cover the day-to-day costs of running services, never mind investment in new greener vehicles.

"We are committed to offering good packages for our people that reflect the local economic conditions, the varying costs of running services and the level of passenger journeys. The focus should be on protecting both the jobs of our people and the long-term sustainability of vital public transport services for the local community. 

"Separate pay discussions are taking place in different parts of the country and are at different stages. We have put fair offers to Unite in these locations and we very much remain open to continuing discussions with the union to reach agreement."