Talks start in bid to halt First Bus drivers strike in Glasgow

Talks will take place on Tuesday to try to resolve a pay dispute at the main local bus company in Glasgow.

Drivers at First Bus plan to go on strike for seven days from Friday.

Trade union Unite wants them to get a bigger pay rise and argues they earn less than drivers elsewhere in the company.

First said its pay offer was well above inflation. Negotiations will come under the auspices of the conciliation service Acas.

First Glasgow - which is descended from the former Strathclyde Buses group - is the biggest local bus operator in the city and part of the transport giant First Group.

Any widespread strike action has the potential to cause significant disruption to its services.

Unite said about 1,200 drivers could go on strike after they rejected a pay offer earlier in November.

The union argued that pay in Glasgow was below the pay levels of other drivers across First Group's other UK operations.

Graham McNab, Unite industrial officer, said: "The dispute at First Bus is down to our drivers being underpaid and undervalued for a number of years.

"First Bus has millions sitting in the bank and its operations across Greater Glasgow recorded profits of £4.3m last year.

"Unless First Bus moves quickly to improve their pay offer then our members will bring bus operations to a stop for a week beginning on 24 November. The ball is now firmly in First Bus's court whether they want to escalate this dispute or resolve it in a speedy fashion."

First did not want to comment ahead of the meeting but earlier this month a spokesperson for the company said it had been notified of the industrial action "despite us making an offer which would see a pay rise of over 11%, well above the rate of inflation".

They said: "In recent years, First Glasgow has heavily invested in electrifying its fleet as well as making significant pay awards.

"The investment has exceeded any profit made and has ensured we have a far more sustainable business for the future.

"At First Bus, we look after our people and pay them a fair wage relative to the role they perform in the business. We have invested heavily in improving working conditions and enhanced benefits for our colleagues.

"We will be looking to continue discussions with union representatives in an attempt to reach a resolution."

A number of other bus companies operate in the Glasgow area, including McGill's and Stagecoach.

Analysis box by Jamie McIvor, news correspondent, BBC Scotland
Analysis box by Jamie McIvor, news correspondent, BBC Scotland

Both First and Unite will be well aware of the risk that strike action could lead to customers going elsewhere.

If the action causes widespread disruption for any length of time, it may be possible for other bus companies in Glasgow to make some changes to their current services.

Much would depend on whether they saw a commercial opportunity to do so and whether they had enough vehicles and drivers.

For instance, they might look at adding more vehicles on to the routes they already run.

But it would be much harder for a rival company to introduce services on a route it does not currently cover.

Local bus services are described as "registered services".

Any changes to them - for instance, a proposal by a company to run a service on a route it does not cover at present - would require the approval of the Traffic Commissioner. Within the industry, It is thought unlikely that the commissioner would approve short-term changes because of industrial action.