Unite, which represents over 20,000 London bus drivers, is warning that the capital could face a period of widespread industrial action in early 2021 as workers are set to be balloted on attacks to their terms and conditions and low pay offers, which are being pursued by different bus operators in the city.
Members employed by French company RATP on West London routes, which are operated as London Sovereign and Quality Line, will shortly begin to be balloted in a dispute about pay and proposed cuts to their terms and conditions.
Meanwhile, Unite is preparing to re-ballot over 3,000 members at Singapore-owned company Metroline, which operates bus routes in North and North West London, early next year over proposals to introduce remote sign on.
Under remote sign on drivers do not report to depots to begin work but meet their bus at an alternative location such as a bus stop. Drivers are only paid for direct driving time and Unite estimates this is an effective eight per cent cut in pay.
In addition to cuts in pay Unite is also opposed to remote sign on due to concerns involving safety, risk of exposure to Covid-19 and increased driver fatigue.
Unite’s members recorded a 97 per cent yes votes for strike action over Metroline’s proposals in October. However, due to the anti-trade union legislation and concerns of legal challenge from the employer, Unite will re-ballot the members affected, rather than wait months for a judge to decide.
Unite has given Metroline every opportunity to treat its drivers with dignity, but talks collapsed at Acas this week as it became clear that Metroline remains intent on introducing remote sign on.
Sections of the Metroline workforce will also be balloted over pay, with the company only offering a one per cent pay increase.
Bus drivers at Abellio, which operates depots in South and West London, are also bracing themselves for industrial action as management has made a pay offer which is worth less than one per cent. Unless there is a dramatically increased offer, then steps to begin the industrial action process are set to begin.
There are further problems at bus operator Arriva which operates in the north and south of London. During the first lockdown, the company imposed Sunday schedules on its drivers on the direction of Transport for London.
As a result workers who continued to drive their buses saw their pay decrease by up to 25 per cent, which resulted in them being paid less than workers who had been furloughed.
As a result and despite being hailed as heroes for keeping London functioning during a period where 29 London bus drivers died of Covid-19, bus workers suffered serious financial issues.
The workers’ request to be compensated for their loss has been rejected and so an industrial action ballot is set to begin imminently.
Unite officer for London buses John Murphy said, “Bus workers are coming under attack on pay and conditions from bus operators throughout London. As well as insulting pay offers (which are real terms cuts) there is the proposal to roll out remote sign on, tear up contracts with guaranteed hours and replace them with zero hour contracts.
“Unite is strongly opposed to any cuts and remote sign on will be the biggest one yet.
“Unite has been attempting to resolve these matters via negotiation but this has currently been unsuccessful,” he added.
“Unite is now beginning the process of balloting members for industrial action and this will ramp up in the new year. If members vote in favour, strike action could begin this winter.
“Bus drivers only take industrial action as a last resort, as they realise the huge disruption it will cause passengers across London.
“However, drivers feel very strongly that they are described as heroes on the one hand but the only thanks they are receiving is pay cuts and attacks on their conditions.”
By Barckley Sumner