Drivers for Centra Buses in Croydon, south London, staged another one-day strike last week. The drivers, members of the RMT union, are involved in a bitter dispute over pay and conditions which stretches back over a year.
Centra, which until recently was called Mitcham Belle, has been the scene of continuing disputes after drivers joined the RMT en masse.
They had complained about ineffective representation from their previous union, the T&G, which has exclusive negotiating rights for bus drivers.
As soon as workers started to organise in the RMT, management began victimising them. Drivers then responded with unofficial walkouts, and disputes have been continuing since then.
The latest dispute is over a claim for a basic £500 a week wage but, more importantly, is about management’s attempts to impose so called “zero hours” contracts.
Under these contracts you only get told if you will be working tomorrow at the end of your shift today.
You can be sent home with no pay if they decide they don’t need you at work after all.
Workers also face “flexible location working” where you can be sent, in your own time, to the other end of the country to drive buses.
Management has done everything it can to bully people back to work. After a recent one-day strike, bosses refused to let strikers work for the next three days.
Drivers’ overtime has also been stopped — a punishment used by bosses who know that workers depend on overtime.
Centra is now bringing in agency staff to drive buses. RMT members at the depot have complained about unsafe practices used by Centra to keep buses moving — including making agency staff stay with buses for 24 hours.
Other tactics used include instructing foreign workers to bring their passports into work, and making agency staff who speak little English sign contracts with no translation.
There was previously no T&G rep at the depot, but now management has allowed a rep to have almost full-time release from work so he can aggressively try to recruit drivers.
The same rep has scabbed on every strike day. New workers are given a T&G membership form with their contracts when they start.
Drivers on the picket line were confident about their dispute and understood how important the battle is.
They know that ultimately Centra wants to be a big player in London buses and wants to be seen to be smashing the RMT.
Workers at Centra are confident of the support from the rest of the union.
The RMT’s London region has been a big supporter of the strikes, with members from mainline railways, other bus companies and the Tube standing on the picket line.
Drivers’ reps are currently deciding when to strike next. What’s clear, though, is that management will try every trick to bully the drivers back to work. It might now be time to take management on with broader, more militant action.
Clearly, the drivers are solid in their desire to win — but it might take more than one-day strikes to do it.