‘Take remote sign-on off the table or we ballot for strike’ – Unite reports ‘overwhelming’ opposition from London bus drivers

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Unite official for London buses JOHN MURPHY addressing a rally addressing the issue of bus driver fatigue – remote sign-on will lead to ‘serious safety concerns’ says Unite

Unite announced on Tuesday that ‘if remote sign-on is not taken entirely off the table for all bus operators then Unite, which represents over 20,000 bus drivers in London, will begin the process of balloting for industrial action.’

A survey of London’s bus drivers by Unite has found overwhelming opposition to proposals to move to a system of ‘remote sign-on’ for buses in the capital.
The London buses privateers are keen to move to remote sign-on to cut costs.
Strike action at bus operator Metroline was avoided in May when the company stepped back from plans to implement the policy.
Over 2,200 bus drivers replied to the union’s survey, with 84% replying that they believed that remote sign-on would be bad for them.
Drivers commented that if remote sign-on was introduced they would ‘feel robbed’, while many said they would leave the profession at a time when there are already driver shortages.
Under a system of remote sign-on the driver no longer begins work at the bus depot, but meets the bus externally somewhere along the route, such as a bus stop.
The driver is only paid from when he or she begins driving the bus.
Unite estimates drivers would see their earnings fall by between 7-12% under remote sign-on.
Added to this are serious safety concerns with the plans.
For example, there would be no safety checks to see if the driver was fit to work before beginning his or her shift.
Equally, there are major welfare considerations, as drivers would not have access to toilets, rest areas and canteens at depots.
The bus driver could also be left waiting at the rendezvous point (unpaid) for some time in all elements if his or her designated bus was delayed.
In order to counter the shortfall in pay, drivers would have no option but to increase their working time.
This would increase levels of fatigue, which are already at epidemic levels and affect workers’ physical and mental health as well as personal relationships.
In total, 86% of respondents said that they believed that remote sign-on would increase levels of fatigue.
There is currently a moratorium on bus operators introducing remote sign-on, which was instigated by London Mayor Sadiq Khan in March.
The moratorium will remain in place while detailed academic research on remote sign-on is undertaken.
That work is set to be completed this autumn.
Once that report is finalised if remote sign-on is not taken entirely off the table for all bus operators then Unite, which represents over 20,000 bus drivers in London, will begin the process of balloting for industrial action.
Unite lead officer for London buses John Murphy said: ‘This survey demonstrates that London bus drivers are almost entirely opposed to the introduction of remote-sign-on.
‘Allowing bus drivers to drive a bus without any checks on their health is fundamentally dangerous.
‘Equally, the initial progress being made in London to tackle fatigue and tiredness will be entirely undone if remote sign-on is introduced.
‘Levels of tiredness among drivers will skyrocket, which has major safety implications for passengers, drivers and all road users.
‘It is imperative that the mayor and Transport for London (TfL) takes action to outlaw remote sign-on at the earliest opportunity in order to avoid industrial action on the London bus network later this year.
‘If a bus operator introduced remote sign-on it would give them a considerable financial advantage when bidding for future routes as costs would be significantly lower.
‘Therefore, if a single bus operator was able to introduce remote sign-on others would feel pressurised to follow suit in fear of losing work.
‘Unite has launched an online petition asking bus drivers and passengers to sign up to oppose the introduction of remote sign-on.’
Hashi Jarma, Unite Senior Rep for London Buses, spoke to News Line on Tuesday afternoon and made clear that London-wide strike action must be organised to defeat the plans of the bus privateers.
He also called for the renationalisation of the entire national bus network.
Jarma said: ‘Remote sign-on is a change of contract and erosion of terms and conditions.
‘It cannot be tolerated on health and safety grounds.
‘There is no facility for drivers to wait on their arrival and it has serious implications for health and safety.
‘It exposes people to all kinds of weather and makes it difficult to go to work.
‘Also, if a driver is not fit for duty there is no means of assessing that and there is also no protection for drivers in the event of being attacked.
‘Furthermore, it will also risk drivers losing their jobs because they have to travel on public transport to get to work or leave their car where there is nowhere to park and if they do not get there on time they will face disciplinary action and the sack.
‘Also, it is a breach of the working time directive because there will not be enough time between duties.
‘For example, I can be asked to pick up my bus at a remote location and have to travel for about an hour to get there, therefore breaching the 11 hours legally required between the shifts.
‘Also, it is discriminatory against those who have caring commitments, especially women.
‘For example, if a female driver has to pick up children from school at 3.30pm she would be finishing away from her garage, making it impossible to get there in time pick up her children.
‘The reason the private companies and also TfL together are trying to bring it in, is a tactic to recover the financial losses from the pandemic and enhance their profits at drivers’ expense.
‘This is also just one step away from a zero hours contract and it cannot be tolerated or accepted.
‘You cannot make your profit at the expense of health and safety.
‘It is not just the safety of the drivers that is at stake but also that of the wider public and we know that we will have the support from the public in fighting against the imposition of remote sign-on.
‘Unite must call London-wide industrial action, which will be very enthusiastically supported by the membership.
‘Remote sign-on is the biggest attack since privatisation and we are determined to defeat it.
‘All the private companies should be removed and the entire bus network should be brought back into public ownership.’
Unite member and Greenford Bus Garage driver Ashok Patel said: ‘Under remote sign-on we would lose our canteen and we would cease to see our colleagues, so it would destroy the social relations between us.
‘It would make the job very much harder both mentally and physically.
‘Sometimes drivers would have to get somewhere where there is no parking. For instance, there is no parking at Ealing Hospital or Ikea. It will make the job impossible.
‘Remote sign-on will make things much worse, both for drivers and passengers.
‘We need to stand together to win. We want London-wide, all-out strike action across the companies to defeat remote sign-on.’

  • Workers employed by construction company Kier, who keep the South East’s motorway network operational held a protest yesterday (Wednesday 18 August) at the company’s Basingstoke offices, due to the refusal to pay them sick pay.

The workers, who have provided a seven-day, 24-hour service throughout the pandemic to ensure that the motorway and key roads network on the Highways England Area 3 contract – which covers Hampshire, Surrey, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and parts of Buckinghamshire – have remained fully open and properly maintained, with delays due to accidents minimised.
Despite being required to work day and night in all weathers, the highways maintenance workers only receive statutory sick pay (SSP), which is worth just £96.35 a week.
This is in contrast to the office based staff at Kier and the workers who are directly employed by the client Highways England – both groups receive full sick pay from day one for a three month period.
Unite regional officer Malcom Bonnett said: ‘Kier’s workers who operate in all weathers to keep the South East’s motorway network fully operational deserve full sick pay, when they are ill.
‘The pandemic has exposed the fact that workers simply can’t survive on SSP which is less than £100 a week.
‘The lack of sick pay results in workers continuing to come to work when they are ill. In normal times, due to the safety critical work they undertake, this could have tragic consequences. During the Covid pandemic it leads to unnecessary risk of exposure to infection.
‘It is simply unjustifiable that office based workers receive full sick pay while those working on the motorway network only receive SSP.
‘With Kier recently being re-awarded the contract on Area 3, now is the perfect time for the company to act and level the playing field on sick pay.
‘If Kier does not end the discrimination to motorway operatives, Unite will step up the campaign which will involve further protests and the possibility of additional actions in order to secure a fair deal for our members.’
Kier has recently secured the contract to continue to provide highways maintenance on the Area 3 contract for a further eight years. The contract will run until October 2029.