‘All bus workers must strike together’ – Renationalise now! – demands Harrow picket

Striking bus drivers on the picket line at Harrow garage yesterday morning

THERE was a strong picket line at Harrow bus garage yesterday morning despite the pouring rain.

London Sovereign drivers were on their third day of strike action against pay cuts and against the attack on their terms and conditions by the French privateer RATP.

John Murphy, Unite member and striking driver, said on the picket line: ‘We deserve respect as drivers and we also deserve danger money for working during during a pandemic and putting our lives at risk.

‘Unite trade union should call an all out London bus strike immediately to stop £2,500 wage cuts and the remote sign-on.

‘It’s great that Manchester are on indefinite strike.

‘We should do the same in London. The buses should be renationalised nationwide.

‘Its a much better system when publicly run. There should be no greedy privateers making themselves rich off other people’s backs.’

Striking bus driver Amil Shah told News Line: ‘I have been a bus driver since 2004. I love my job but the pay is very low.

‘We are striking to stop the pay cut and remote sign-on – we need at least a 3% pay rise.’

Unite member Akim Hussein said: ‘Going out on strike is not a decision taken lightly especially since now the schools have reopened.

‘I’d rather be at work to help the public get to school or to Northwick Park Hospital where elderly people have to get to their appointments.

‘RATP is not playing ball. We need a day of action where all the buses come out together to strike.’

The pay dispute is a result of the workers being offered a pay deal of just 0.75 per cent, well below what other bus operators have offered staff.

Meanwhile the Unite union has warned bus passengers that the ongoing industrial action will spread across London.

Following yesterday’s strike, future industrial action across the three RATP subsidiaries London United, London Sovereign and Quality Line will be co-ordinated, with strikes scheduled for successive Wednesdays on 17, 24 and 31 March.

The London United dispute is a result of RATP seeking to use the Covid-19 pandemic as cover to slash the pay and conditions of drivers.

The drivers face cuts in pay of £2,500 per annum, reducing pay to 2015 rates, with workers expected to work far longer for the lower pay rates. The drivers operate routes across south and west London.

The Quality Line dispute is over low pay. The Quality Line drivers, who are based at its depot in Epsom, Surrey, are among the lowest paid in the capital, earning £2.50 an hour less than drivers at the other RATP subsidiaries. The company has offered them a miserly increase of seven pence an hour (0.5 per cent).

Unite regional officer Michelle Braveboy said: ‘Bus drivers are not taking strike action during a pandemic lightly, this is a last resort as RATP has refused to enter into meaningful negotiations.

‘It is astonishing that while RATP’s directors are receiving over 50 per cent increases in pay, they are only prepared to offer an increase of as little as seven pence an hour to their workers.

‘Future strikes could still be called off but it is a question of will. RATP need to table improved offers and talks could then resume.’

The routes affected by the strike action will be those emanating from the following RATP garages: Edgware, Epsom, Fulwell, Harrow, Hounslow, Park Royal, Shepherd’s Bush and Tolworth.

Unite stated: ‘The ongoing industrial action, which involves French bus company RATP and its three subsidiaries in the capital; London United, London Sovereign and Quality Line, began last month.

‘RATP’s attempts to divide and rule each workforce, mean each of the three strikes involve different issues.

‘RATP is a highly profitable business. Its latest results reveal that the company had a turnover of over £5 billion, an increase of 2.5 per cent. The company’s highest paid UK director saw their pay increase from £196,000 to £363,000, an increase of 54 per cent.

‘Bus drivers report the company seems prepared to invest in offices and depots but not in its drivers, who are critical for the success of the service.

‘Talks were held last week in an attempt to resolve the dispute, but RATP made clear it was not prepared to change its position and talks broke up without agreement.’