Transport for London (TfL) must confirm that it is not interfering in the London bus dispute in what would be, if true, an unlawful bid to block a resolution to the London bus dispute today (Wednesday 11 February).
With further strikes looming, the concerns emerged from Britain’s largest union, Unite, as the union sought legal assurances from TfL requesting that its board members sign a neutrality statement pledging not to block talks aimed at resolving the dispute between the union and London’s 18 bus operators.
The extraordinary moves came as Unite also pledged to use freedom of information (FoI) laws to force TfL to reveal the contents of a secret meeting it believes was held in January, and which the union believes undermined any prospect of talks.
In a legal letter to the mayor of London, the chair of the TfL board, the union has asked TfL to confirm that a meeting occurred on 30 January with TfL managers. The union believes that those attending were asked to sign confidentiality agreements before being told that the collective forum being sought by Unite is lawful, running contrary to repeated public statements made by TfL.
The union also sought clarity that route allocations for bus operators would not be jeopardised if they entered into collective talks with Unite, going on to warn that TfL would be breaking the law if it waived penalty clauses for lost mileage through the dispute. If true, behaviour of this kind would constitute 'misfeasance' Unite alleges, and would be an extraordinary abuse of its role as a public body.
Commenting Unite regional officer Wayne King said: “It has become apparent after two days of strongly supported strike action that we need clarification that TfL has not secretly been playing the role of wrecker rather than serving the best interests of London’s 6.8 million bus passengers.
“In public TfL says ‘nothing can be done’ and that a collective meeting between the bus companies is 'illegal.' Yet privately, we are told that it seems TfL knows that’s not to be the case. We need to know that TfL is neutral and not secretly resorting to blocking a resolution to the dispute.
“The public deserve assurances that there is no duplicity on the part of TfL. Such behaviour, if true, would be shameful from a taxpayer funded organisation and would run fully against its duty as a public body and undermine the serious talks we have had with several bus operators aimed at resolving the dispute.
“Unite simply requires TfL to sign a public statement of neutrality to confirm that operators can negotiate freely with Unite. TfL should have no problems signing such a statement and indeed should welcome the opportunity to clarify its position.
“If the statement is not signed, Unite will pursue freedom of information requests to establish precisely what meetings have occurred to discuss Unite’s demands and precisely what has been said by TfL to those operators who seek to negotiate a resolution to this dispute.
“No doubt the public will reach their own conclusions if Unite is forced to pursue the FoI requests.”
For further information please contact the Unite press office on 020 3371 2065 or Unite head of media and campaigns Alex Flynn on 020 3371 2066 or 07967 665869.
Notes to editors
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.