UNION boss Bob Crow has targeted North East rock concerts worth more than £7m as he takes Metro drivers out on strike.
The RMT said it has been left with no option but to go ahead with strike action on June 7 and 21, the dates of Sunderland’s Stadium of Light concerts for Coldplay and Bruce Springsteen.
While concert organisers at Sunderland AFC have said there is no prospect of the events not going ahead, warnings have been sounded about the wider impact of the RMT targeting the North East economy.
RMT Metro drivers earning average annual wages of around £37,000, including overtime, voted to reject a pay offer of 1.3%.
Rail bosses say the union was offered a further payment for lowered paid staff to increase their salaries but this was also rejected.
Last night the RMT said it would be writing to American singer Bruce Springsteen asking him to support their action, and to show the same solidarity he famously showed towards striking miners.
Cleaners on the Metro system will also be going on strike with a 48-hour walk-out starting at 10.30pm on Sunday June 10. Cleaners are also unhappy about the sacking of a colleague.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “In the face of the insulting pay offer of 1.3% offer for DB Regio, the attempt to impose poverty pay on the cleaners and the outrageous attack on one of our members we have had no option but to take action in defence of standards of living in a climate free from victimisation.”
He added: “RMT cleaners have shown that they will not put up with victimisation and bullying and poverty pay and the DB Regio members have given a resounding no to attacks on pay and conditions, they have delivered the strongest possible mandate for action in three separate ballots and we know that the action announced today will prove to be rock solid.”
Three different ballots for strike action among cleaners and drivers produced support of between 70% and 100%, with all the Metro drivers thought to be in the RMT union.
North East RMT coordinator Micky Thompson last night blamed the strike action on both rail operator DB Tyne and Wear and Nexus, the council-backed group which owns the railway.
Mr Thompson added: “We don’t want anyone to cause disruption but we have workers who deserve a just wage.
“We saw the concerts coming up and they fell into our hands, we are not going to turn down the chance to strengthen our hand, but we do not want to be in this situation, and DB and Nexus, who have came to this very late, can still avoid this by making a proper and realistic offer to us. 1.3% is less than inflation, it is a de facto pay cut and we are not prepared to sit back and let that happen.”
Last night many of the region’s Labour politicians were reluctant to condemn strike action even though it threatens to undermine major summer events. The Journal contacted the office of David Miliband, who sits on Sunderland AFC’s board, to see if the MP supported strike action but a comment was not provided. The constituency office said the MP is currently out of the country.
Strike talks have however been called for by the North East Chamber of Commerce.
Head of policy Ross Smith, said: “The concerts at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light provide a showcase for the region and bring in millions to the North East economy.
“To even consider strike action on days where the region will be packed with visitors reliant on public transport – not to mention the people who use the service every day – is both irresponsible and counter-productive.
“Hopefully common sense will prevail and industrial action will be avoided.”
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Sunderland Council leader Paul Watson said: “At the moment, we are looking at the implications around this announcement.”
Train operator DB Tyne and Wear had expected talks to continue next week, a move ruined by the RMT’s decision to push for concert strike dates.
A spokesman said: “We are in discussions with all trades unions and have agreed arrangements for further talks in the current pay dispute. We want to resolve this matter quickly without disruption. We will provide a further update on Friday June 1 confirming the train services we plan to operate on Thursday June 7.”
A spokesman for Nexus, which owns and manages Metro, said: “Nexus is working hard at the highest level to bring both sides together so they can resolve this dispute. We urge unions and DBTW, which operates Metro trains and stations under contract to us, to continue talks.
“Strike action around the Stadium of Light concerts would have an impact on struggling local businesses, people’s livelihoods and the image of our region on days when we should be welcoming thousands of visitors from across the UK.”
WHAT THEY EARN
DRIVERS on the Tyne and Wear Metro system earn an average annual wage of around £32,800. With overtime taken into account that can rise to an average of £37,000.
Wage comparison website mysalary.co.uk said the pay was in line with other rail drivers in the North East, but behind the £42,000 a driver in the South East can expect to take home.
The RMT has rejected as "insulting" the 1.3% pay rise offered, though the union has not said what its wage target is. Union officers say they want a "realistic" offer and improved terms and conditions.
Their current salary compares well with others in the region. Bus drivers, for example, earn on average £25,000.
In the public sector council staff across the region are in the third year of pay freezes, after years of below inflation rises.
Massive stadium gigs are music to all our ears
EACH Stadium of Light concert brings in around £3.5m to the regional economy.
The venue has brought in visitors from across the UK after proving to major concert organisers that large parts of the North East are committed to making the events a success.
By the end of this summer, more than 650,000 people will have been to see acts perform at the Stadium of Light, spending around £42m in the local economy. Organisers worked with more than 200 firms last year.
The wider financial benefits of all those music fans flocking to Wearside even outweighs those of football, with a full season at the Stadium of Light bringing in £40m a year to the local economy.
Sunderland AFC say the concerts will go ahead whatever the outcome of strike talks, but are not commenting further while there is still the possibility of strike talks.
When Take That performed in May last year, hotel occupancy reached a staggering 98% across Newcastle and Gateshead, showing the wider impact of the concerts.
Tourism chiefs say those visitors who come to the region specifically for an event, particularly those who stay overnight, spend far more on shopping, leisure and dining, at an average £122, versus typical day visitors who spend an average £31.