'Bus workers deserve so much better'

Unite GS Sharon Graham: ‘stop picking bus workers’ pockets or there will be inevitable disruption’

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The UK’s bus industry has been placed on notice by the union representing the country’s bus workers that it must address the terrible working conditions or face the obvious consequences.

Sharon Graham, the general secretary of Unite the union, has announced today (October 7) that she will be bringing together union bus reps from across the Britain and Ireland to develop a comprehensive battle plan to fight back against the constant attacks on jobs in the industry, ranging from breadline pay rates to the threat of remote sign-on in London which will bring chaos to the capital’s roads.

Sharon Graham said, “The bus industry provides work for around 250,000 people but far too many of them are on low pay, long hours and under tremendous pressure.

“Our members have had enough. Some drivers aren’t even getting £10 an hour but are on the road for long hours and have no decent breaks or even basic facilities,” she added.

“It’s a disgrace. These are key workers who literally kept us moving during the Covid crisis – dozens of whom paid with their lives. Small wonder that we are now receiving reports of driver shortages in the industry as these workers vote with their feet and move onto other industries.

“It is very clear that the handful of big operators in the UK are abusing their privileged market position: Stagecoach, for example, is hoarding millions, it is sitting on cash that should be in pay packets not given out in boardroom bonanzas,” Graham continued.

“In London, there’s a threat to Uber-ise buses with drivers only paid from when they collect their vehicle, irrespective or whether they have been forced to wait in the street for a traffic-delayed bus to arrive. It’s a ludicrous proposal that does nothing for the passengers. It is all about picking workers’ pockets.

“This will not just go away,” she went on to say. “Bus workers deserve so much better. We are in this for the long haul, not just a few weeks. A clear, resourced plan will be developed.”

Unite is currently preparing for strikes at Stagecoach across England, Wales and Scotland, which could see mass disruption of services from mid-October. Low pay and long hours are at the heart of the dispute.

In London, the union is fighting to prevent the installation of a remote sign-on system, which would force drivers to accept responsibility for the collection of their bus, hit pay and harm the service to the public. No other mass-transit system in the world uses the system proposed for London, and if needs be Unite will ballot its 20,000 London bus members for strike action to prevent its imposition.

The UK bus sector is dominated by the Big Five operators: Arriva, Go-Ahead, National Express, Stagecoach and First Group. It is plagued by low wages and long hours for the workers and reduced services and high travel costs for passengers with a handful of big companies abusing their market position to force down pay with no regulatory consequences.

In July this year, the UN concluded that the privatisation of the UK bus industry was a “masterclass in how not to run an essential public service” saying that bus services were at the mercy of “private actors who have total discretion over how to run a bus route, or whether to run one at all’”. It also attacked the system for privatising profits and the expense of services and decent jobs.

By Barckley Sumner

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