PEOPLE planning to use buses across Somerset will face disruption today as union members take strike action over pay and conditions. 

This is the second of four planned strike days for members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT). 

First South West has apologised to customers for today's limited operations, which will affect its Buses of Somerset and Cornwall by Kernow services. 

Today's action follows a strike on Monday, October 10. Further action is planned on Friday, November 4 and Friday, November 11.

The union says many of its workers have been offered “a small uprate to £12 an hour” from their current hourly rate of just over £11.

First Group, which manages the regional services, recorded more than £226 million in operating profits in the 2022 financial year. 

Last year, it reportedly planned to return £500 million to its shareholders after selling two of its businesses in North America. 

The company says it has offered to increase staff pay by 17.4 per cent over two years and is willing to meet with the RMT to find a settlement.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “These key transport workers are being treated abysmally by a highly profitable company that could easily pay them a decent wage.

“It is in the public interest in Somerset, Cornwall and across the country to see bus workers paid well so people do not leave the industry creating chronic shortages in bus services.

“We urge First Group to come to a negotiated settlement with the RMT and we continue our industrial campaign until we achieve pay justice.”

Somerset County Gazette: RMT workers stand at an official picket.RMT workers stand at an official picket. (Image: Barry West)

Barry West, regional organiser for the RMT, says the pay offer made by First Bus for 2022 is worth around five per cent, while inflation rose to 10.1 per cent last month.

Mr West said: “The RMT and our members were extremely disappointed that on Sunday October 9, 2022, First Bus were unwilling to change their position and enter into a meaningful negotiation.

“Our members are suffering as food prices rose at the fastest pace since 1980 last month, and are at a 40-year high with an increase of 14.6 per cent in the year through September, led by the soaring cost of staples such as meat, bread, milk and eggs, the Office for National Statistics said on Wednesday.

“In terms of ability to pay, our members are outraged that the company is still able to find significant amounts of money to pay its shareholders.

“Whilst our members cannot afford to heat their homes, feed their families and struggle to pay the rising energy, fuel, utility bills and housing costs, mortgages and rents have risen significantly and are causing hardship to many.”

He said union members “remain open for negotiations and resolving this situation we find ourselves in”. 

Simon Goff, managing direction for First South West, said: “We would like to apologise sincerely to all our customers for the inconvenience this will cause.

“We are doing everything possible to operate what services we can. However, there is likely to be a very limited service operating, with no guaranteed journeys.

“We advise our customers to look at our website and social media feeds for the latest information on services that will still be running and seek alternatives where necessary.

“We are very disappointed that the RMT has taken the decision to continue with industrial action across the south west following our offer to increase staff pay by 17.4 per cent over the next two years.

“The pandemic has had a severe impact on our industry and consequently travel patterns have changed and we have yet to recover pre-Covid levels of customers using our services.

“Despite this, and in recognition of the cost of living crisis, we are still prepared to put this significant offer to our staff.

“The door remains very much open for the RMT to meet with us to find a settlement. It is very clear that the vast majority of our staff want to accept this deal and move on.

“We respect the rights of colleagues to take action, but in order to allow the business to recover from the pandemic, we need to work together, keep the wheels turning and make sure people can go about their daily lives without disruption.”