Socialist Worker

London bus drivers could stop work over virus fears

by Sam Ord
Issue No. 2745

A strong strike at Shepherds Bush

A strong strike at Shepherd's Bush (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Over 20,000 London bus drivers have been advised to refuse to drive overcrowded buses because of coronavirus safety fears.

The Unite union has told its members that when the bus reaches capacity, the driver should remain in their cab and contact their controller and the bus will remain stationary until the matter is resolved.

Under the regulations, a maximum of 30 passengers can ride on a double-decker bus and the maximum capacity for a single-decker is 11 or 14 depending on its size. In addition, standing is not allowed on buses.

When schools returned in September, drivers were told that the maximum load rules did not apply when collecting schoolchildren.

With schools due back on Monday, drivers are highly concerned that overcrowding will dramatically increase, risking their health and that of all the passengers on the bus.

The move comes as over 2,200 drivers at three subsidiaries of outsourced bus operating company RATP struck this week.

Friday’s walkouts followed strikes held last week across West and South London.

Pay

Workers at London United, one of the RATP subsidiaries, are fighting against a pay cut of up to £2,500. Drivers would be expected to work longer hours for lower pay.

Abdul, Shepherd's Bush branch rep and driver, told Socialist Worker, “Management came back to us and said ‘We’ll pay you £1,500 less.’

“We said ‘No thanks’ and were back out on strike. We’re not going to stop striking until they stop attacking us. They should stop giving the bosses bonuses and instead give us a pay rise!”

Abdul backed the call to take action for safety. “Transport for London isn't enforcing the rules, it's now up to us,” he said.

“If we reach the limits we will stop for ours and the public's safety.

“Working through the pandemic has been hard and made us anxious. Many of us got sick, some were put into intensive care and unfortunately at neighbouring garages drivers have died.

“The government only sees us as key workers when they need us, the same as nurses.”

Pickets have shown the mood to fight

Pickets have shown the mood to fight (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Drivers at RATP subsidiary, Quality Line in Epsom, Surrey were also out on strike on Friday. They’re among the lowest paid in the city, receiving £2.50 less an hour than other RATP subsidiaries.

They’re battling for a larger pay increase rather than the tiny 0.5 percent—seven pence an hour— they've been offered.

London Sovereign drivers in North West London will continue their strikes on the next two Wednesdays, coinciding with the return to schools.

Manchester bus strikes battle bosses whose strike-breaking risks spreading virus
Manchester bus strikes battle bosses whose strike-breaking risks spreading virus
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They have been offered an increase of just 0.75 percent.

Alongside the London strikes, Manchester bus drivers working for Go North West are continuing an all-out strike. They are in dispute over bosses' plans to fire and rehire the workforce on inferior contracts.

Unite has denounced overcrowded strike-breaking buses from other companies that are running during the strike. Manchester mayor Andy Burnham should step in and halt the scab buses.

Unite says it “has agreed to a million pounds of savings at Go North West’s depot and in addition has agreed a pay freeze for 2020 worth an additional £200,000.” The union also said “it was prepared to continue to negotiate to find further savings”.

But the bosses walked away in January and introduced the fire and rehire policy.

Retreats and concessions haven't worked. Drivers must continue striking to win decent pay and safe working conditions.


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