LONDON bus passengers should give their full support to London bus workers as they prepare for massive strike actions in the capital called by the Unite trade union.
The first wave of strike action, which starts on Monday, involves bus drivers employed by the French-owned company RATP, which operates three subsidiaries in the London bus network: London United, London Sovereign and Quality Line. Some 2,000 bus drivers are involved in the dispute.
Workers at London United, which provides bus services in South and West London will take strike action on Monday 22 February, Tuesday 23 February and Wednesday 24 February.
RATP is using the Covid-19 pandemic to attack the terms and conditions of the drivers at the London United subsidiary. Due to the proposed contracts drivers face wage cuts of £2,500 which will reduce wages to 2015 levels, additionally, due to attacks on conditions, drivers will be expected to be at work for far longer.
The company has also threatened to introduce zero hours style contracts, which would result in drivers only being paid for when they are physically driving a bus and not when they are actually at work.
Workers at Quality Line, based at its depot in Epsom Surrey, will take strike action on Monday 22 February and Tuesday 23 February in a dispute over pay. The drivers earn £2.50 an hour less than drivers at RATP’s other subsidiaries. The workers have been offered a derisory pay offer of 0.5 per cent (seven pence an hour).
Unite members at London Sovereign, who operate services in North West London, will take strike action on Monday 22 February. The workers have been offered a pay increase of just 0.75 per cent, which is well below what has been offered by other operators.
Unite regional officer for RATP, Michelle Braveboy, said: ‘RATP is guilty of using the cover of the pandemic to force through attacks on terms and conditions and table pitiful pay offers.
‘RATP has a long history of attacking one group of workers at a time, attempting to slash pay and conditions, before moving onto the next group. Our members are drawing a line in the sand with this dispute.
‘Bus strikes can still be averted if RATP removes its threats to cut terms and conditions at London United and make fair pay offers at Quality Line and London Sovereign.’
Additionally, Unite is set to shortly announce it will be balloting its 4,000 plus members at Metroline, over the Singapore-owned company’s proposals to introduce remote sign on.
Remote sign on means drivers do not report to a depot to start work but meet their bus and begin work at an alternative location such as a bus stop. Remote sign on forces drivers to start work away from the depot, reducing costs and boosting the company’s profits.
Unite argues that there is no benefit to passengers, and in fact, remote sign on could cause disruption to services. There are also major safety implications, as there are no checks to ensure a driver is fit for work. Furthermore, forcing the driver to travel to a bus stop to begin driving will result in them being at greater risk of exposure to Covid.
Unite has calculated that the introduction of remote sign on will equate to an immediate seven per cent cut in wages on average for affected workers.
Drivers at Metroline voted overwhelmingly for strike action in the autumn; however, due to a technical issue, the union was likely to fall victim to anti-trade union rules so strikes were not called.
Unite has sought to resolve the dispute with the assistance of the conciliation service Acas but Metroline made it clear that it was not prepared to back down on its plans for remote sign on. As a result Unite had no option but to re-ballot its members for strike action.
Unite regional officer for Metroline, Mary Summers, said: ‘Unite has attempted to resolve the remote sign on dispute through negotiation but Metroline have refused to see reason.
‘As a consequence Unite has no option but to re-ballot its members for industrial action to defend pay and ensure safety for drivers and passengers.’
Unite workers must immediately set up strike committees and call on all London busworkers to join the actions, and to urge the RMT and Aslef rail unions to stop work in sympathy, on the main line and London Underground, since railworkers are facing the same problems.