London bus passengers should brace themselves for serious disruption as Unite, the UK’s leading union, announced bus strikes in the capital.

First strikes

The first wave of strike action involves bus drivers employed by the French owned company RATP, which operates three subsidiaries in the London bus network: London United, London Sovereign and Quality Line. Approaching 2,000 bus drivers are involved in the dispute.

Workers at London United, which provides bus services in South and West London will take strike action on Monday 22 February, Tuesday 23 February and Wednesday 24 February.

Pay and conditions attacked

RATP is using the Covid-19 pandemic to attack the terms and conditions of the drivers at the London United subsidiary. Due to the proposed contracts drivers face wage cuts of £2,500 which will reduce wages to 2015 levels, additionally, due to attacks on conditions, drivers will be expected to be at work for far longer.

The company has also threatened to introduce zero hours style contracts, which would result in drivers only being paid for when they are physically driving a bus and not when they are actually at work.

Lowest paid drivers

Workers at Quality Line, based at its depot in Epsom Surrey, will take strike action on Monday 22 February and Tuesday 23 February in a dispute over pay. The drivers earn £2.50 an hour less than drivers at RATP’s other subsidiaries. The workers have been offered a derisory pay offer of 0.5 per cent (seven pence an hour).

Unite members at London Sovereign, who operate services in North West London, will take strike action on Monday 22 February in a pay dispute. The workers have been offered a pay increase of just 0.75 per cent, which is well below what has been offered by other operators.

Unite has stressed that the dates only cover the initial strike action and if the disputes are not quickly resolved fresh strike action will be announced.

RATP guilty

Unite regional officer for RATP, Michelle Braveboy, said: “RATP is guilty of using the cover of the pandemic to force through attacks on terms and conditions and table pitiful pay offers.

 “RATP has a long history of attacking one group of workers at a time, attempting to slash pay and conditions, before moving onto the next group. Our members are drawing a line in the sand with this dispute.

 “Workers are taking industrial action as a last resort as the company has refused to listen to reason and continue with the negotiations.

 “They understand that bus strikes will cause huge disruption to the general public but believe they have no choice but to defend terms and conditions and ensure a fair pay offer.

 “Bus strikes can still be averted if RATP removes its threats to cut terms and conditions at London United and make fair pay offers at Quality Line and London Sovereign.”

 Metroline dispute

Additionally, Unite is set to shortly announce it will be balloting its 4,000 plus members at Metroline, over the Singapore-owned company’s proposals to introduce remote sign on.

Remote sign on means drivers do not report to a depot to start work but meet their bus and begin work at an alternative location such as a bus stop. Remote sign on forces drivers to start work away from the depot, reducing costs and boosting the company's profits.

Remote sign on

Unite argues that there is no benefit to passengers, and in fact, remote sign on could cause disruption to services. There are also major safety implications, as there are no checks to ensure a driver is fit for work. Furthermore, forcing the driver to travel to a bus stop to begin driving will result in them being at greater risk of exposure to Covid.

Unite has calculated that the introduction of remote sign on will equate to an immediate seven per cent cut in wages on average for affected workers.

Drivers at Metroline voted overwhelmingly for strike action in the autumn, however due to a technical issue the union was likely to fall victim to anti-trade union rules, so strikes were not called.

Acas talks failed 

Unite has sought to resolve the dispute with the assistance of the conciliation service Acas but Metroline made it clear that it was not prepared to back down on its plans for remote sign on.

As a result Unite had no option but to re-ballot its members for strike action.

The union is also concerned that if Metroline’s proposals are left unchecked it will give them a commercial advantage when bidding for routes, resulting in other companies introducing similar policies to the detriment of drivers.

Metroline refused to see reason

Unite regional officer for Metroline, Mary Summers, said: “Unite has attempted to resolve the remote sign on dispute through negotiation but Metroline have refused to see reason.

 “As a consequence Unite has no option but to re-ballot its members for industrial action to defend pay and ensure safety for drivers and passengers.”


Notes to editors:

London facing looming bus strikes as workers reject attacks on pay and conditions

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

For media enquiries ONLY please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 07802 329235 or 0203 371 2067.

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.