A BUS company has issued a strong statement to striking drivers to stop their action as it claimed its latest pay offer will make them among the highest paid drivers in the region.

Drivers in County Durham, North Yorkshire, Teesside and Darlington have voted in favour of a seven-day strike starting this Sunday in a dispute over pay.

In an unprecedented move Arriva has now released a wages comparison report demonstrating that under its most recent pay offer the drivers will be the among the best paid in the North-East - and said with overtime they could earn up to £26,100 a year.

But Bob Bolam, regional organiser for Unite the Union, said this was with a lot of overtime - and said Arriva was not comparing 'apples with apples' as the company was looking at different bus companies, with drivers on different terms and conditions.

Arriva said that the comparison in the research, which it said was based on readily-available wage data, showed that under the new pay offer drivers would be paid better hourly rates than most of their counterparts at other bus companies in the North-East, if their paid-for meal breaks are counted in.

And they said there are only two depots out of over 20 in the region at which bus drivers are paid more than Arriva drivers and that was just 3p per hour more than Arriva Durham drivers would earn, again factoring in paid-for meal breaks.

The company said the average Arriva driver pay for a top rate driver for a basic 39 hour week at £10.60 per hour will be £413.40 per week - equivalent to £21,579 per annum before tax and other deductions, and this could be topped up to £26,100 with overtime.

Arriva said its latest pay offer, rejected by the UNITE union, comprised a 7.6 per cent increase on hourly rates over a two year period (backdated to March 2018), a reduction in the length of time it takes drivers to hit the top rate of pay (from five years to three years), and a guarantee of a further increase in March 2020 equivalent to £1 an hour.

Arriva managing director for the region, Nigel Featham, comments: “UNITE claims, without any attempt at justification, that our drivers are poorly paid relative to others. "Quite simply, it’s a false flag, and one that has led to an unnecessary industrial action. They’re striking for something they have already been offered.”

Arriva bus routes and services in the North Yorkshire, Cleveland, Teesside and Durham areas will be seriously disrupted by the seven-day action.

Some replacement bus services are being planned and Arriva said updates would be available in its website and social media, and it would operate those buses free of charge.