Unite is urging Transport for London (TfL) to take definitive action to tackle fatigue among London bus drivers.
Unite’s demand follows the publication today (August 28) of new research by Loughborough University. The report found that 21 per cent of bus drivers had to ‘fight sleepiness’ at least two or three times a week. Thirty six per cent had a ‘close call’ due to fatigue in the last 12 months, 17 per cent had actually fallen asleep at least once while driving and five per cent had been involved in at least one accident in the last year due to fatigue.
Unite believes that a combination of workers undertaking excessive hours due to inadequate levels of pay, a lack of recovery time between poorly scheduled shifts and overly long shifts without sufficient rest breaks are all major factors in causing fatigue.
Despite the report’s shocking findings Unite believes that TfL’s response to the report of requiring bus operators who are awarded new contracts after the summer of 2020 to demonstrate a robust system to reduce the risk of fatigue, needs beefing up.
In order for any fatigue report system to be credible it must ensure bus operators introduce civilised roster, provide decent driver facilities and replace the militaristic, disciplinarian culture in the garages with a more open and cooperative one.
TfL’s commitment to provide £500,000 of funding for bus operators to put forward new ways to tackle fatigue, is welcome but this must include proper engagement with the drivers themselves, through Unite.
Under current UK bus driving rules, provided the bus route is less than 50km, workers can drive a bus for a total of 10 hours a day with an unbroken five and half hour stretch behind the wheel, before getting a 30 minute break. While workers are normally legally entitled to 10 hours rest between shifts (which does not include travelling to and from work) this can be reduced to just 8 and half hours three times a week. Bus drivers must have at least one day a week off each fortnight.
The publication of the Loughborough Report is a direct result of lobbying from Unite, which represents the vast majority of London bus drivers.
In response to the Loughborough Report and as a result of the excessive hours being worked by bus drivers, Unite will stage a demonstration tomorrow (Thursday, August 29). The demo will begin at 10.30am and will be held at City Hall, London SE1 2AA.
Unite regional officer John Murphy said, “While Unite recognises that the Mayor has done the right thing by commissioning this research, and we believe that TFL has taken the right turning, the journey of travel currently appears to be too slow.
“TfL must take decisive action and force bus operators to stop flogging their workers to the point of exhaustion,” he added. “The safety of the general public and workers is being placed at risk because of fatigue being suffered by London bus drivers.
“Unless TfL’s proposals for a fatigue reporting system are given real teeth it will make little difference,” Murphy went on to say. “The low pay culture is a fundamental source of fatigue. No one wants to work long hours but drivers are forced to do so to make ends meet.
“To tackle low pay across the board TfL needs to be establishing London wide pay rates for all drivers.
“Fatigue is not going to be tackled unless the standard five and half hour shifts without a break are ended and shift patterns allow drivers adequate time to recover.
“The establishment of a fatigue reporting system must include all key players including unions, in order for it to be credible and beneficial to drivers.”