Stagecoach bus routes across the Highlands, Dundee, Angus, Fife and Perth could be brought to a halt in the autumn if workers vote for strike action.
Unite union members are being balloted about industrial action in a dispute about pay.
The bus operator runs some of the busiest routes in the north-east and Highlands with passengers using them for vital links between major cities.
However, rural communities also depend on the services to provide valuable and lifeline links to larger towns and cities.
Stagecoach has described the threat as “puzzling” after already settling pay claims with other areas, including Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray.
It has also stressed income from fares is still “significantly short” of what is needed to cover day-to-day running costs due to the pandemic.
What is the Stagecoach dispute about?
Unite says it is balloting its 1,500 Stagecoach members about possible strike action to try and get a “fair” pay settlement for workers – demanding a 3.8% increase.
The ballot covers the depot in Inverness and wider Highland area but not Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray. Other areas included are Angus, Dundee, Fife and Perth as well as Dumfries, Ayr and Cumbernauld.
It says the bus operator has made a below-inflation offer to workers – blaming the effect of the Covid pandemic.
However, the union has cited the group’s latest accounts, which show the firm made an annual profit of £58.4million while describing the company as “extremely profitable”.
Stagecoach has benefitted from Scottish Government funding schemes through the pandemic to keep lifeline routes on the road.
Dougie Maguire, Unite’s regional coordinator, says workers who have been on the frontline through Covid lockdowns are “infuriated” by the operator’s stance.
He said: “If Stagecoach do not come to their senses, then many of the nation’s major bus routes will grind to a halt if our members vote for industrial action.
“Remote local communities and showcase events such as the Cop26 climate change conference will be severely disrupted.
“This will be solely down to the group’s point blank refusal to make our members a fair pay offer.
“The solution is simple – give our members the pay rise they deserve or face widespread industrial disruption.”
What is Stagecoach saying?
Stagecoach says passenger numbers are still only at 70% of pre-pandemic levels, making the firm reliant on Scottish Government handouts to maintain services.
It says the national comments from union Unite do not reflect the “positive discussions” it is having with local representatives.
A spokeswoman for Stagecoach in Scotland said: “Local people who depend on buses to get to work and access public services, as well as local businesses struggling to recover from the pandemic, will be extremely angry at the threat of completely unnecessary disruption to their bus services.
“The threat of strike action is even more puzzling as we have already agreed a pay package with Unite covering members in several other parts of Scotland and they remain happy with the deal.
“In addition, union representatives have recommended their members accept the package that we have offered in the west of Scotland.
“We are committed to offering good packages for our people that reflect the local economic conditions, the varying costs of running services and the level of passenger journeys.
“The focus should be on protecting both the jobs of our people and the long-term sustainability of vital public transport services for the local community.
“Separate pay discussions are taking place in different parts of the country and are at different stages. We have put fair offers to Unite in these locations and we very much remain open to continuing discussions with the union to reach agreement.”