Socialist Worker

Stop the privatisation of East Thames Buses

Issue No. 2132

Bus workers in the Unite union have vowed to oppose plans unveiled by Transport for London (TfL) to privatise East Thames Buses, London’s only publicly-owned bus operator.

East Thames employees were sent a letter last week signed by Paul Blackwell, general manager of London Buses.

In it he announces plans to “explore opportunities for putting East Thames Buses into the private sector” by the middle of next year.

Keith Apple, a Unite rep at East Thames, told Socialist Worker that many drivers are worried about what a transfer to the private sector would mean for their pensions.

“We have a final salary scheme at East Thames,” he said. “Not many private companies are willing to offer that any more.”

Blackwell’s letter speaks only of the privatised pension scheme offering benefits “comparable” to current arrangements—and to “existing members” only.

East Thames was set up in 2000 as a public body to take over bus routes in south east London that were being failed by the private sector. It runs crucial routes such as the 185 from Lewisham to Victoria—which no private provider was willing to bid for.

But now that these routes are running successfully again, TfL managers wants to hand it back over to the fat cat shareholders that screwed it up the last time around.

One East Thames driver who has also worked at other private bus firms in London spoke to Socialist Worker.

“I took a pay cut to come here and work for a public sector company,” the driver said. “It’s a completely different attitude—the buses are run for the public, not to meet performance targets or make profits for shareholders.

“Earlier this year we balloted for strike action over pay. If we were willing to strike over that issue, we should certainly take industrial action to keep our jobs in the public sector with decent terms and conditions.”

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