Transport union RMT has slammed First South West today (Friday, November 11) for not settling a pay dispute with bus workers despite its parent company reporting a jump in profits. Concerns about pay and conditions prompted some staff to resort to strikes in Somerset and Cornwall last month and this month.
First Group has published its half-year results for the six months to September 2022, which shows that operating profits from its continuing operations have increased to £66 million compared to £52 million for the first half of last year. The company’s press release commended the “resilient financial performance delivered despite the challenging political, economic and industrial relations environment”.
But according to RMT, First South West workers in Somerset and Cornwall are angry that many of them are only paid just over £11 an hour and that bosses only offered a small uprate to £12 an hour. On top of the profits First Group has made, First South West itself owns Somerset Passenger Solutions. For the year ending March 2021, RMT says First South West received a dividend income of £2.1 million from SPS.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said that it was time the company recognised the contribution workers made before during and after the pandemic. “First are running 20 per cent fewer bus services than pre-pandemic, is protected against the impact of industrial action on the railway and is paying out a dividend pay-out to shareholders. That is a scandal that needs to be addressed in order to reward bus workers and not just shareholders,” he said.
A spokesperson from First South West said: “The bus industry is striving to recover from the impact of the pandemic and the current economically challenging times. I would like to apologise for the disruption that our customers have had to face from the RMT’s recent strike action and we remain disappointed that the RMT continues to reject an offer worth over 17 per cent over the next two years”.
First has announced an interim dividend of 0.9p per share – which they estimate to be around £6.7 million in total, to be paid on December 23. Commenting on First Group’s finances earlier this week, chief executive officer Graham Sutherland said in a statement: “We have delivered a resilient financial performance in the period despite significant headwinds – demonstrating our strengths in the UK bus and rail markets and the increasing capability and potential we are building into our businesses as public transport continues to navigate the aftershocks of pandemic travel restrictions.
“With a strong balance sheet and an important role supporting the sustainability and economic growth agendas in our core UK public transport markets, we see clear opportunities to create further value and deliver progressive returns to shareholders in the coming years.”