Over 6,000 bus drivers were out on a 24 hour strike yesterday to protest at the huge pay disparity between the eighteen London bus companies.
The Unite trade union submitted a London-wide claim to all bus operators in March of this year to challenge the current system, whereby drivers (and other grades) performing identical jobs within the Transport for London (TfL) regulated industry, receive hugely varying pay and conditions.
Unite members working at Metroline, Metrobus and First Group were out on picket from 3am.
Unite is calling for a single rate of pay for drivers of £30,000 a year, based on a 38 hour week. Currently the eighteen London bus companies all operate with different pay structures, with pay inequalities of up to £7,000 a year.
At Westbourne Park, First Group Garage, the strike was solid.
Pickets shouted ‘Boris Johnson sort out our wages, or we’ll be on strike for ages!’
Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, bus garage had over 60 people on the picket line yesterday morning.
News Line spoke to two bus drivers, Steve and Shane.
Steve said: ‘The union have left it over six months and Metroline have refused to talk to the union.
‘The union should have sorted it out months ago and not have left it ’til Christmas when they’re trying to force the workers to accept a deal.’
He said he finished work on Thursday night at eight o’clock. He said normally, he started work at 6.30 in the morning.
‘When I argued (about my work roster), they said it was a minimum of an 11-hour break,’ he said.
Shane said: ‘I hope this works.’
He also went on to say: ‘Over the wider scheme of things, all drivers in London should get together and unite.
‘A little company have their strikes and they benefit, but not Metroline.
‘Privatisation was set up to curb strikes, but now unions are slowly working together.’
In west London, there were 30 pickets at the Greenford bus depot picket line yesterday morning, with more expected to arrive at lunchtime.
TGWU member Denzil Jonah said: ‘We need to renationalise the buses. The system we’ve got is profits first. But you can never make a profit out of a public service.
‘What do we pay tax for? I reckon there should be a general strike.
‘It’s not greed on our part. TfL (Transport for London) lost money in Iceland. Why should we pay the price?’
Ahmed Jamal added: ‘We have to free ourselves from the government. The workers need to take over.
‘We need to make things fair because the government is making it unfair.
‘On the buses the workers are treated badly and the fares are much too high.
‘We need to renationalise.’
At Westbourne Park, Unite Branch Secretary Jay Mistry told News Line: ‘We are now seeing other bus companies joining the campaign and we are glad of their solidarity.
‘It is about time our bosses gave back some of the big profits that they have been making since the industry was privatised 15 years ago.
‘The majority of our drivers are living on benefits such as child credits.
‘Even though we are contracted to work a 38-hour week we must average 45 hours just to pay the bills.’
At Holloway bus garage, north London, Unite branch committee member, Matthew Hianes told News Line: ‘We just want equal pay for all drivers across London.
‘We want better working conditions in general.
‘A lot of drivers have to work 50 hours-plus a week. We want a 38-hour week.
‘Drivers have to feed their families and have to work 50 hours a week to do that.
‘Why should one driver in one part of London be on £20,000 a year and somebody in a different part of London be on £32,000?
‘I blame privatisation. We should be running a public service.
‘We’re confident. Holloway has always had a tradition of standing united.
‘We need all London out. Our next planned strike on October 22nd will see other companies joining our fight.
‘These will include Arriva, East London and First, as well as us.’
Unite Senior Regional Organiser, Peter Kavanagh added: ‘We’re seeing the biggest bus strike in London for decades today.
‘Thousands of members from different companies have come together on a common demand for decent wages and civilised working hours.
‘There are more ballot results expected today which will bring thousands more Unite members into the fray.
‘We are looking for the employers to get serious and for TfL and the Mayor to understand their responsibilities in this matter.
‘There’s a real mood for a fight – the ballot results have all returned 90% votes for strike action.’
Holloway garage Unite rep Paul Brandon told News Line: ‘The strike is very well supported at the biggest garage in London.
‘No buses have left the garage. We are united and determined to take action to achieve substantially better pay and conditions.
‘It’s quite clear there’s enough money to save the banking system and that’s money that should be funding wages for bus workers, teachers, nurses, council workers and all those providing essential services.
‘The big five bus companies will be out on October 22nd.’