Around 100 London bus drivers and supporters rallied at City Hall this morning, Thursday, to present mayor Sadiq Khan with a ten point drivers’ bill of rights.
A London Assembly report, brought about by drivers’ campaigning, has exposed the shocking conditions drivers face.
Drivers work long shifts with constant hassle over the radio from under-pressure controllers. And they are forced to skip breaks and are denied toilet access.
One driver, Paul Ainsworth, told Socialist Worker, “I’m expected to turn up at work on time, so I do. But apparently it’s too much for me to expect to finish and go home on time.
“When you get on a bus, you don’t want a driver who’s tired, you don’t want a driver who’s stressed and you don’t want a driver who’s bursting for the toilet.”
The drivers are in the Unite union. It campaigned hard to win Khan the nomination to be Labour’s mayoral candidate and then beat Tory challenger.
He made much of being the “son of a bus driver”. But Khan hasn’t kept his campaign promises to the drivers of today, whose pay and conditions have been hit hard by privatisation.
Paul said, “We just want to be treated the way a son of a bus driver would want his family to be treated, with dignity and respect.”
Drivers and Unite officials spoke alongside road safety campaigners, who warned that attacks on drivers’ conditions make the roads dangerous for everyone. There have been 25 deaths and 12,000 injuries caused by accidents involving London buses in just two years.
The bill of rights demands a safe work schedule with proper rest breaks, clean and serviced toilet and rest facilities and the right to report safety conditions.
Caroline Russell, one of the London Assembly members behind the report, said, “We have a really reasonable set of demands. It’s obvious these things should be taken for granted. The fact that we’re in the 21st century and access to toilets is on a list of demands is unbelievable.”
It also warns that bosses shouldn’t make workers pay for these urgently needed improvements. “The slogan is, ‘Shorten the day but keep the pay’,” said Joanne Harris, a bus driver on Unite’s London regional committee.
Bus companies are already cutting jobs to prepare for a £700 million funding cuts. Driver Steve O’Rourke told Socialist Worker, “Everything now is about saving money. There’s going to be a battle—and the people who bear the brunt aren’t the companies but the drivers in the front line.”
The biggest cheers at the rally went to calls for London-wide industrial action. Drivers remember the gains they made by shutting down the transport network with a strike in 2012.
Steve said to applause, “Maybe it’s time we had a London-wide strike again. Maybe it’s time we all went out on the picket lines until they listen to us on health and safety."