Thousands of vulnerable people in Greater Manchester are set to be affected by strikes as Ring and Ride drivers threaten industrial action.

Around 7,000 disabled or older people use the service which offers a low-cost door-to-door accessible transport option on demand for residents with walking difficulties.

A trade union representing Ring and Ride drivers in the city-region says staff have been left with "little choice" but to take strike action over their "poverty wages".

It comes after Greater Manchester Accessible Transport Ltd (GMATL), which runs the publicly-funded scheme, offered to increase pay by up to 10 per cent.

But Unite says its members are paid the minimum wage to do the "physically and mentally demanding job".

The union has also criticised the charity, which is owned by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), for so far failing to sign up to mayor Andy Burnham’s Good Employment Charter.

Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM), which funds the Ring and Ride service, says responsibility for pay and conditions sits with the operator.

GMATL says it is "working hard" to find a resolution to the pay dispute.

However, Unite general secretary, Sharon Graham said: “GMAT should be ashamed of themselves – a charity paying poverty wages to drivers performing a vital service to vulnerable residents across Greater Manchester. Unite’s unrelenting focus on jobs, pay and conditions means our members at GMAT will have the full backing of the union in their fight for a fair wage.”

The number of Ring and Ride trips dropped dramatically during the pandemic from more than 30,000 a month in February 2020.

But it has gradually increased since the service resumed in May with hundreds of thousands of journeys every year by the roughly 7,000 registered users of the "invaluable" service.

Currently drivers receive just £10.42 per hour.

According to Unite, this means that GMATL pays the lowest wages of all of the bus companies in the region.

The registered charity has also not signed up to Greater Manchester’s Good Employment Charter which aims to raise employment standards including through fair pay with a commitment to the real living wage.

After a successful industrial ballot, members could be taking strike action in the coming months.

Unite regional officer, Colin Hayden, added: “GMAT is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and yet fails to adhere to the very standards that local councils have set to be a good employer.

"Our members have been left with little choice but to take this action in response to such a poor pay offer and we encourage GMAT to come back to the negotiating table with an improved offer to avert strike action.”

A spokesperson for GMATL said: “Contrary to Unite’s statement, our original pay offer of up to 10 per cent already exceeded the Real Living Wage and just last week an improved offer was tabled that was dismissed without being put to staff.

"We provide an invaluable transport service, which is vital to enable thousands of vulnerable residents to travel within Greater Manchester, and industrial action will undoubtedly have a negative impact on the service users.

“As demonstrated by our initial and subsequent offer we are working hard to find a resolution, and another meeting has been arranged to allow for further discussions to avert strike action.”

Dates for industrial action are set to be announced in due course, according to Unite. 

The union said it would not comment further while talks are ongoing.

A TfGM spokesperson said: “Although grant funded, responsibility for pay and conditions of ring and ride staff sits with the operator.

"The service is operated under a service level agreement (SLA) with Greater Manchester Accessible Transport Ltd (GMATL), and while not currently included, we have ambitions to work with them to include membership of the Good Employment Charter, which includes requirements to ensure all staff receive the real living wage – something GMATL’s current pay offer achieves – in the SLA in the future.”