BUS drivers in London have launched a fresh wave of strikes as their union Unite announced further strike action involving bus drivers employed by London United, a subsidiary of the French owned company RATP, in the long-running dispute over pay and attacks on workers’ conditions.
Workers at all seven London United bus garages were on strike on Thursday 15 April. The striking bus drivers operate from the Fulwell, Hounslow, Hounslow Heath, Park Royal, Shepherd’s Bush, Stamford Brook and Tolworth garages. The highest level of disruption to commuters is on routes in South and West London that the depots serve.
The strikes went ahead after talks brokered by the conciliation service ACAS broke up late on Wednesday 14 April without agreement.
Unite has announced further strikes for Friday 23 April, Monday 26 April and Friday 7 May. With London gradually opening up from lockdown and public transport use on the rise, each strike is causing increasing disruption and delays.
The talks failed to reach agreement as RATP failed to offer pay increases to settle the outstanding 2019 and 2020 pay claims.
RATP is attempting to cut pay and conditions in order to boost profits. The company’s latest accounts (2019) show the French-owned group is highly lucrative. It had an annual turnover in excess of 5 billion euros, at the same time Catherine Chardon, the chief executive of their London-based operation, saw her pay dramatically increase from £196,000 to £363,000.
No reasonable offer
Unite regional officer Michelle Braveboy said on Thursday: ‘Unite’s members are on strike today and will take further industrial action until RATP makes a fair and reasonable pay offer.
‘Our members have worked throughout the pandemic, risking their health and that of their families and frankly the offer put forward by RATP is insulting.
‘RATP appears to have plenty of money to pay its corporate fat cats and invest in refurbishing its offices, but when it comes to paying the bus drivers who are essential to its operation it claims the cupboard is bare.
‘Bus drivers understand that by going on strike passengers in London will face substantial disruption to their journeys but they feel that they have been left with no option as a direct result of the company’s failure to make a fair offer.
‘Unite has always made it clear that the union is available for talks at any time and if RATP is prepared to come forward with an offer that our members find acceptable then strikes planned for the coming weeks can be averted.’
On Thursday, during the London strike action, workers at Hounslow Heath and Stamford Brook garages were on strike for the first time after being prevented from striking previously by the Thatcher anti-union laws and they enthusiastically joined their colleagues who were taking their 12th day of strike action.
‘National action now to defeat fire and rehire,’ was the message from the picket lines outside the seven west London garages.
At Hounslow Heath Garage, driver and Unite member Raj Danda told News Line: ‘We are glad to join the strike at last. Nothing has gone out of here today and we’re solid. The company are trying to take over two grand from us and impose new contracts that will reduce pay and conditions for the future.
‘Fire and rehire is happening all over the country and it’s got to be stopped. In Manchester, the bus workers have been on indefinite strike for over six weeks. That’s very brave. We have to do it or we’ll lose everything. Renationalise the buses and national strike now.’
Hounslow Heath Garage Unite Branch Rep David Cox said: ‘Support has been astronomical. I’m very proud of everyone that’s turned out. I was in the talks with the company at ACAS on Monday and Wednesday and the company persisted in offering pay cuts and a new contract for new employees.
‘They gave us an ultimatum yesterday that if we didn’t accept what they were offering they would take everything off the table. We won’t have it and that’s why were out on strike today and then again on Friday 23rd and Monday 26th April.’
At Hounslow town bus garage picket line, Clive Collacott said: ‘I’ve always said renationalise the buses. Now that Metroline have had a 97% strike vote as well, Unite should call the date for their action now and combine the strikes. The more united action we have the stronger it will be.
‘British Gas sacked their workers yesterday for refusing to sign new pay-cutting contracts, Asda has just announced it is sacking 1,200 workers. We need national strike action to defeat fire and rehire. All the strikes should be united.’
Hounslow bus garage Unite branch chairman Jalilur Rehman said: ‘We should all combine together, it would make more impact on the company. This £2,500 pay cut is unacceptable. They are trying to cut us in every way. We need a national strike and renationalise the buses.’
At Fulwell Bus Garage, Unite Branch Secretary Phil Smith said: ‘Hounslow Heath and Stamford Brook coming out make our voice louder. Privatisation is a blight. It’s the same with these academies. They don’t worry about the kids, they’re only interested in their business model.
‘British Gas are firing and rehiring. We’ve got Manchester ongoing. The top director here went from £196,000 to £363,000, but they’re offering us 0.5% plus contract cuts. The only way forward for us is to get rid of the privateers and renationalise the buses.’
The RATP busworkers strike action was boosted by the addition of another two garages joining the action.
At Stanford Brook, joining the strike for the first time, Unite rep, Edmund Shoderu told News Line: ‘We began our picket line at 3.15am this morning and can confidently say we are 100 per cent solid with not one bus leaving the garage.
‘We have over 300 drivers here and have worked throughout the pandemic with two of our colleagues having been lost to the Covid virus.
‘We are demanding a decent pay rise at least in line with inflation – all we have been offered is 0.5 per cent.
‘This is after eight rounds of talks. Yesterday’s lasted from 11.00am until 5.00pm.
‘These private bus companies want to bring in remote sign on. We need an all-out strike with other companies to stop this.
‘Passengers are all paying the same fares for their bus journeys but drivers are being paid different rates because of different companies!’
At the Shepherd’s Bush garage, Unite rep Abdul Hanafi said: ‘We are solid today and will be out next Friday and the following Monday.
‘The talks yesterday resulted in management withdrawing the 60-minute unpaid break back to the existing 40 minutes.
‘That’s nowhere near enough to cancel the strike so we will be out again next week.’
- A rally took place at the beginning of last week in Southampton demanding that sacked RMT bus safety rep Declan Clune is reinstated. Outrageously, he was dismissed for reporting a safety issue.
Declan Clune’s union RMT hosted the demonstration in the city centre for Bluestar secretary Declan Clune, who is alleged to have been dismissed by the company for ‘reporting concerns to Network Rail around a bridge being struck by vehicles’.
The protest will took place on Monday, April 12, between 9am and 11am on the High Street in Bargate.
The demonstration is part of a high-profile publicity campaign in support of Declan’s reinstatement by the employer, Bluestar.
RMT is currently in dispute with the company and is balloting bus driver members for strike and other forms of industrial action.
During a director’s review, the company upheld their earlier decision of dismissal for bringing the company into disrepute.
RMT said: ‘At Declan’s appeal and Director’s review the company upheld their earlier decision of dismissal for bringing the company into disrepute.
‘No evidence has been forthcoming to explain what the loud banging noise has been when buses have passed under the bridge in question.
‘Bluestar have denied that they failed to adhere to their own procedure and decided that Declan, in reporting the issue to Network Rail, could have influenced their opportunities for further business. The union says that this is total nonsense.’
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: ‘Bluestar need to come to their senses and reverse the decision so that an industrial dispute is not needed. Declan was seeking to uphold high standards of safety to protect the travelling public.
‘As workplace representatives selflessly come to the aid of members without a second thought it is every member’s responsibility to come to theirs when attacked.
‘That is why we have declared a dispute with the company, are balloting for action, and holding this protest. Bluestar now need to reinstate Declan.’