Go North East drivers are being offered thousands of pounds each if they choose not to strike over the closure of a bus depot, leaked documents have revealed.

A letter to around 200 staff at Chester-le-Street has confirmed an offer totalling £2,250 has been made on the provision workers do not take industrial action.

It comes as the firm faces growing calls to reverse its plans to shut the depot in September, while drivers and union bosses are taking steps towards strike action.

Read more: Go North East responds to threat of strikes in Chester-le-Street

In the letter, obtained by The Northern Echo, the firm's operations director says drivers are being offered the cash as a "substantial relocation package" to make the move "a little easier."

The Northern Echo: Picture: GO NORTH EASTPicture: GO NORTH EAST

This package includes a £500 payment on the next pay slip after the move, a £750 payment in three months and a further £1,000 after six months.

It also states a travelling time payment will be made for 24 weeks and that it will work to accommodate workers with specific shift or rota requirements.

Read more: Go North East faces more concerns over closure of Chester-le-Street depot

But the letter has warned that all offers will be taken off the table and "withdrawn," as it claims the firm will no longer be able afford it if industrial action goes ahead.

An excerpt says: "If there's action then we will sadly have to withdraw the relocation and retention package currently on the table as we will no longer be available to afford this.

The Northern Echo: Picture: GOOGLEPicture: GOOGLE

"We’ve tried to work in partnership with Unite to create a package that we feel is fair and appropriate, compensating colleagues for the disruption of moving depots, and without any redundancies to your role grade.

"The decision to close Chester-le-Street has been extremely difficult – we understand how attached you and your colleagues are to the depot and to each other, however we are a substantially smaller business now following the pandemic.

"We must therefore downsize the number of depots across the company, and reduce our overheads, to recover from our current loss-making position – this change is a major part of that recovery plan."

In recent weeks, Go North East has been criticised with staff saying the closure could have been prevented if the depot was maintained, although the firm has strongly refuted this. 

Read more: Go North East faces claims Chester-le-Street depot was 'run down' by firm

Meanwhile, drivers have raised concerns over the costs to relocate, the impact on their personal and family lives and the wider impact on services and economy in the town.

'Cynical'

Last night, workers hit back at the letter, accusing the company of being "cynical" and undermining the ongoing fight to prevent the depot's closure.

One worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "Drivers only see it as a cynical attempt by the management to undermine their determination to fight the closure. 

"A relocation allowance has been offered to all staff within cls a payment of 24 weeks at 1 hour per shift worked and an initial payment on relocation of £500, another at 3 months of £750 and a final one at 6 months of £1000.

"The offer has not been tabled to Unite representatives directly and is being used to influence the industrial action ballot which is currently running."

Addressing the closure, Mark Sanderson, Unite Regional Coordinating Officer at Unite, last week said: “Closing the depot will hurt our members’ jobs and working conditions, as well as damaging community services and the local economy.

"Our members have the support of the town in opposing the closure. Go North East needs to drop these plans before this dispute escalates into strike action.”

What Go North East says

Go North East has defended its offer, saying it has created a relocation package that is "fair and appropriate" and that "many" drivers had opted to transfer to a depot six miles away in Washington.

A spokesperson said: "We understand how attached colleagues are to the depot and to each other, however, we are a substantially smaller business now following the pandemic.

"We must therefore downsize the number of depots across the company, and reduce our overheads, to recover from our current loss-making position – this change is a major part of that recovery plan. 

"There are no job losses to our driver and engineering workshop colleagues as part of this closure.

"Bus Driver and Engineering colleagues will transfer to one of our neighbouring depots in Washington, Consett, Sunderland or Gateshead and can choose a depot of their own choice to suit individual circumstances.  

"Many of our Chester le Street colleagues have chosen to transfer to our Washington depot which is just 6 miles away from our depot at Chester le Street.   

"We’ve worked in partnership with Unite the Union to create a relocation package that we feel is fair and appropriate, compensating colleagues for the disruption of moving depots, and without any redundancies to drivers and engineering colleagues.   

"It is therefore disappointing to note Unite the Union’s desire to ballot for industrial action which will cause widespread disruption to local bus services for residents and businesses in Chester le Street and surrounding areas.  

"Particularly when jobs, pay and conditions are protected for those colleagues involved. 

"There are no changes to local bus services as a result of this depot closure. Services will continue to operate from our neighbouring depots."

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