UNLESS London bus privateers stop the ‘race to the bottom’ and cease their onslaught on working conditions all-out strike action will swiftly ensue, Unite warned on Tuesday.
The union is launching a consultative ballot of all London bus driver members tomorrow, Friday 7 February, over long hours, fatigue and exhaustion.
If, as expected, members vote in favour of industrial action, then a full postal strike ballot will ‘swiftly’ follow.
The warning to bus companies not to engage in a race to the bottom follows the revelation that the East London Bus Company, which is owned by Stagecoach, is currently in the process of trying to force its drivers onto a rota where they will work five weekends in a row before having one weekend off.
The same company is also forcing workers onto 65-hour spread-over shifts, in a five-day period.
The driver undertakes 43 hours of driving during this time and can be left standing by the kerbside for four hours at a time during gaps in shifts.
With rival bus companies bidding for routes under compulsory competitive tendering rules, Unite is concerned that other operators will follow the East London Bus Company’s lead to try to prevent it gaining a commercial advantage.
Unite is demanding that bus operators stop blaming drivers for the chronic level of fatigue they suffer.
Instead, Unite is seeking to ensure that radical action is taken to improve scheduling, ensuring drivers finish on time, take all of their rest breaks, have sufficient running time, receive proper training and are treated with respect.
Unite regional officer John Murphy said: ‘Bus drivers will be taking a historic stand against fatigue and exhaustion this week.
‘Providing drivers vote yes, Unite will swiftly move towards a full industrial action ballot.
‘Given the fact that academic research has found that bus drivers are exhausted and are at risk of becoming a danger to other road users, passengers and themselves, it is astonishing that the East London Bus Company is seeking to force drivers to undertake even more exhausting work patterns.
‘Bus operators need to understand that not only will Unite not allow a further attack on drivers’ conditions, but that workers are fully prepared to take industrial action to end work-related fatigue.
‘The senior management at all London bus operators must stop doing an impression of an ostrich and instead recognise this is a massive problem for drivers and take co-ordinated action to resolve the issue.
‘The hours and work life balance of London bus drivers are so poor that it is causing serious damage to their physical and mental health and to their relationships.
‘Such a situation is intolerable and drivers are demanding that action to resolve this is taken now.’
- Bin collections and street cleaning services in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets could stop ‘imminently’ in a dispute over unsettled holiday pay arrears, Unite has warned.
Veolia, which holds the refuse, recycling and street cleaning contract for Tower Hamlets, has not settled a collective holiday pay claim despite reaching an agreement with Unite and other trade unions on the calculation of holiday pay in August 2018.
Workers are owed up to £9,000 in holiday arrears from Veolia, which generated revenues of nearly £1 billion from in its UK waste management division during the first half of 2019.
Rather than voluntarily paying all its staff the money they are owed, Veolia has forced individual workers to use the legal system to claim back the arrears, in what Unite said was an attempt to use ‘the prospect of complex and time-consuming litigation to put our members off claiming what is rightfully theirs’.
Tower Hamlets residents are now facing the prospect of ‘uncollected rubbish and litter-strewn streets’ because of Veolia’s refusal to cough up the back pay it owes, the union said.
Around 250 Unite members who are Veolia refuse workers and street cleaners have been balloted for strike action today, with voting to close on 21 February.
Unite regional officer Ruth Hydon said: ‘Tower Hamlets residents will be furious at the prospect of having to put up with uncollected rubbish and litter-strewn streets because Veolia won’t hand over the holiday pay it owes staff.
‘It says a lot about Veolia’s leadership that they have done everything possible to wriggle out of paying the holiday pay arrears.
‘This includes using the prospect of complex and time-consuming litigation to put our members off claiming what is rightfully theirs.
‘Strike action will be held imminently if this dispute, which is entirely down to the actions of Veolia, continues on its current trajectory.
‘Unite urges Veolia to pay what it owes before that stage is reached.’
- Unite confirmed on Tuesday that its members at Cummins Engineering in Cumbernauld have overwhelmingly voted in favour of strike action.
This comes following an announcement just before Christmas that the company would be closed.
The action will result in strike, and action short of a strike, including an overtime ban, and is expected to take place from late February 2020.
The turnout was 84.7 per cent with 100 per cent of workers voting for strike action.
The Scottish government has offered financial assistance to keep the factory open through the development and production of hydrogen cell batteries.
However, the company remains intent on closing the factory despite admitting it did not need to before autumn 2020, prior to the alternative plans being brought forward.
Unite industrial officer Pat McIlvogue said: ‘This is about our members’ futures. They are refusing to give up without a fight.
‘Cummins has stripped them of their jobs and their livelihoods. We are hoping that the action will bring Cummins management back to the table following their earlier refusal to engage with us on an alternative to closure.
‘Unite has brought forward a counter proposal with the Scottish government’s assistance and we are grateful for their ongoing support.
‘Unite believes we can retain a viable presence on the site and we will not give up the fight to save jobs.’
- Hundreds of members of staff working for the homeless charity, St Mungo’s, are set to strike after voting by 83.7 per cent for action in a dispute over the reinstatement of ‘race to the bottom’ terms and conditions and a punitive sickness policy.
Unite is calling on local authority commissioners of St Mungo’s homelessness services to put pressure on the CEO Howard Sinclair to return to the negotiating table for last ditch talks, warning that a strike by the union’s members could cause disruption to service delivery in councils across London and the south of England.
Unite is open to talks with the conciliation service Acas, but has warned that the ‘offers’ on the table since the summer are not good enough and will need to be re-visited if progress is to be made.
A meeting of Unite workplace representatives will take place over the next few days to decide the next steps.
Unite regional officer Tabusam Ahmed said on Tuesday: ‘The last thing our members want is to cause hardship to vulnerable homeless people. But after more than a year of having their demands to be treated more fairly ignored, they’ve had enough.
‘This was a resounding vote against a heavy-handed and bullying management style.
‘If the strikes go ahead, the services councils rely on to support vulnerable, homeless people in their areas will be disrupted, but this is the responsibility of senior management.
‘Unite has been seeking to resolve these matters with the employer for over a year. We are urging all commissioning local authorities using St Mungo’s services to exert pressure on the management to get back around the negotiating table.
‘Our members’ demands – that management respect staffing agreements, staff terms and conditions, and end their draconian use of discipline and hostility towards their chosen trade union – are reasonable.
‘The time has come for management to negotiate and to rebuild trust.’
The ballot of over 500 Unite members was the second in less than six months, after the first ballot missed the 50 per cent legal threshold by a single vote.
The issues in the dispute have remained the same and centre on the tearing up of the junior staffing cap, which members fear risk a reinstatement of race to the bottom terms and conditions, an onerous sickness policy and disproportionate use of grievance and disciplinary procedures.