'LONG HOURS and stress-they're killers, aren't they?'
So said Keith Stratford, one of the bus workers who joined the TGWU union's protest over working hours outside Downing Street in London on Monday. The workers are angry that many drivers end up working 60 or even 70 hours a week. This is despite the European Working Time Directive, which sets a limit of 48 hours. New Labour introduced an opt-out clause to the working time legislation which means bosses can put pressure on workers to 'choose' to work more than 48 hours a week.
'It's down to the low wages drivers get,' explained Doug Bailey, a bus worker from Anglesey in Wales. 'To pay the mortgage you have to work long hours. We've been betrayed by Labour. The government sided with the employers and agreed to have an opt-out. Under the Working Time Directive, my managing director has rights to better hours than me.
'The law says you have to have one day off in 14. But it depends how that 24 hours is calculated. It can mean you can finish work at 1pm on Saturday and be back in work at 1pm on Sunday.'
Ron Day, a bus driver from Newcastle, said, 'I say to people, would you get out of bed at 4am for £12,000 a year? That's what I'm expected to do. And I'm one of the highest paid because of my length of service. It's all about profit. The company I work for, Go Ahead, always say they can't afford to give us more. But they have bought up loads of bus companies and run train services too.'
Keith Stratford added, 'I don't envisage doing 60-70 hours a week until I'm 60. And now the government's on about wanting us to carry on working till we're 70. As time goes on things have got worse, not better, for bus drivers. Tony Blair thinks he's above everyone else. Then there was the war on Iraq, which should never have happened. I just feel let down.'
Suleman, a bus driver from Cricklewood, seized the megaphone at the protest to shout towards Downing Street, 'Tony Blair, you say you've got no reverse gear. Well, neither have we. We are going to fight for our rights.'
He told Socialist Worker, 'I've got no problem with our union funds going to Labour if we get something in return. But where do our funds go? Is all that money worth it?'
Fred Gipson, a driver from High Wycombe, said, 'The opt-out clause is really a cop-out. It means we are still working long hours. I carry a Labour Party card. But I'm thinking about chopping it up. They are too blue for me. They don't stick up for working people.'
The largest delegation of some 25 bus drivers travelled from Sheffield to the protest. The workers held a successful strike in June, winning a pay rise.
'I think that is why there are so many of us here today. We feel confident,' said Mohammed Imran. 'The management thought we were divided and we weren't. But we still face working long hours and that's why we came down to join this protest.'