London Bus drivers 'not taking strike action lightly'

London braced for fresh bus strikes as talks fail to progress

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Bus passengers across London should be aware that they face fresh disruption throughout March, due to a series of strikes over pay and conditions, Unite has warned.

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.

With schools having returned this week and with the economy slowly beginning to open up following the lockdown, the strikes will cause increasing disruption for London’s commuters.

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. Further talks solely for the London United dispute will be held tomorrow (March 11).

Workers at London Sovereign, who operate bus services in North West London are striking today (March 10). 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.

Following today’s strike, future industrial action across the three subsidiaries 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.

“The latest strikes will inevitably cause serious disruption across the London bus network but I hope that passengers will understand this is the result of RATP’s greed,” she added.

“RATP is using the Covid pandemic as cover for attacking drivers’ pay and conditions. It is expecting drivers to do the same work for lower pay.

“Unite’s members are angry and insulted, they have risked their health to keep London moving throughout the pandemic and the only thanks they have received is attacks on their pay and conditions,” Michelle continued.

“Our drivers recognise that RATP is a highly profitable company that appears to be prepared to invest in everything apart from its drivers. Yet without drivers its services would instantly grind to a halt.

“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.”

By Barckley Sumner

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