A survey of London bus drivers by the trade union Unite, the UK’s leading union, has found overwhelming opposition to proposals to move to a system of remote sign-on for buses in the capital.

A number of London bus operators are keen to move to remote sign-on to cuts costs. Strike action at bus operator Metroline was avoided in May when the company stepped back from plans to implement the policy.

Drivers feel robbed

Over 2,200 bus drivers replied to the survey with 84 per cent replying that they believed that remote sign-on would be bad for them. Drivers commented that if remote sign-on was introduced they would “feel robbed”, while many said they would leave the profession at a time when there are already driver shortages.

Under a system of remote sign–on the driver no longer begins work at the bus depot, but meets the bus externally somewhere along the route, such as a bus stop. The driver is only paid from when they begin driving the bus.

Fall in earnings

Unite estimates drivers would see their earnings fall by between 7–12 per cent under remote sign-on. Added to this are serious safety concerns with the plans. For example, there would be no safety checks to see if the driver was fit to work before beginning their shift.

Equally, there are major welfare considerations, as drivers would not have access to toilets, rest areas and canteens at depots. The bus driver could also be left waiting at the rendezvous point (unpaid) for some time in all elements if their designated bus was delayed.

Longer hours

In order to counter the shortfall in pay, drivers would have no option but to increase their working time. This would increase levels of fatigue, which are already at epidemic levels and affect workers’ physical and mental health as well as personal relationships. In total 86 per cent of respondents to Unite’s survey said that they believed that remote sign-on would increase levels of fatigue.

There is currently a moratorium on bus operators introducing remote sign-on, which was instigated by London Mayor Sadiq Khan in March this year. The moratorium will remain in place while detailed academic research on remote sign-on is undertaken. That work is set to be completed this autumn.

Industrial action looming

Once that report is finalised if remote sign-on is not taken entirely off the table for all bus operators then Unite, which represents over 20,000 bus drivers in London, will begin the process of balloting for industrial action.

Line in the sand

Unite lead officer for London buses John Murphy said: “This survey demonstrates that London bus drivers are almost entirely opposed to the introduction of remote-sign-on.

 “Allowing bus drivers to drive a bus without any checks on their health is fundamentally dangerous.

 “Equally, the initial progress being made in London to tackle fatigue and tiredness will be entirely undone if remote sign-on is introduced. Levels of tiredness among drivers will skyrocket, which has major safety implications for passengers, drivers and all road users.

 “It is imperative that the mayor and Transport for London takes action to outlaw remote sign-on at the earliest opportunity in order to avoid industrial action on the London bus network later this year.

Domino effect fears

If a bus operator introduced remote sign-on it would give them a considerable financial advantage when bidding for future routes as costs would be significantly lower. Therefore, if a single bus operator was able to introduce remote sign-on others would feel pressurised to follow suit in fear of losing work.

Unite has launched an online petition asking bus drivers and passengers to sign up to oppose the introduction of remote sign-on.


Notes to editors:

During the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes.

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 020 3371 2067 or 07802 329235.

Email: [email protected]

Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.