The first of three additional 24-hour walk-outs in a dispute over pay is scheduled to take place on Thursday this week, with further stoppages on Friday, February 13 – unlucky for pretty much everyone – and Monday, February 16.
More than 20,000 bus workers from 18 different companies walked out on January 13, resulting in huge tailbacks on the roads and scenes of chaos at overcrowded London Underground stations. The smart cookies were possibly those who decided they lived close enough to walk to work – a lesson which may well be worth heeding this time round.
It’s thought that only 44 of London’s 673 bus routes functioned normally during the last strike, and Brixton underground station was among those overwhelmed by thousands of extra passengers. There were also reported to be more than 1200 miles of traffic jams in Greater London by 8.30am, plus 15-mile tailbacks on the southbound lane of the A12 in Essex.
Members of the Unite union are demanding that the capital’s various bus operators enter into talks about a single London-wide agreement covering bus workers’ pay, terms and conditions. They say pay for new drivers can vary from £9.30 to £12.34 an hour, depending on the company.
Unite regional officer Wayne King said: “We have been working tirelessly in our efforts to bring the employers to the table to discuss a solution to this dispute. We firmly believe that there is a simple solution to be had, but sadly the refusal by the operators to engage in collective talks is risking the inevitable disruption that strike action will bring to passengers.”
Transport for London (TfL) insisted that it made “no sense” to pay all drivers the same amount. Mike Weston, director of buses for TfL, said: “I am very sorry that the leadership of Unite are threatening to further disrupt the journeys of bus passengers, especially given that only 16 per cent of the bus drivers voted for strike action.
“As in all professions, bus drivers have different levels of experience and it is only right that this can be reflected in pay. A ‘levelling up’ of pay to the highest rates would cost around £100m a year.”