29 Oct 2010

Strike call after driver attacked in riot

Newtownabbey, Belfast Metropolitan Area
A vicious attack on a bus driver during the Monday night riots has led to calls for a bus strike in the area. Michael Dornan, representative for UNITE Union spoke about a possible strike after details emerged of the bus hi-jack on Monday evening. He said: “I don’t want to go into a political debate, all I can say is the driver was trailed from the bus and beaten. He has been left with very serious facial injuries — it’s utterly disgraceful.
“We provide an important service to the neighbourhood, but we can not risk our lives in doing so when there is such civil unrest — if the safety of our drivers can not be assured, we have no other option but to call a bus strike.” The bus was burnt out along with several cars hijacked during the night of disorder.
Over 200 youths reportedly gathered in the Rathcoole area to riot — it is thought the disturbance was linked to a number of searches in the area over recent days by officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland's Historical Enquiries Team.

Fourth strike day at "charity" bus operator

by Mark L Thomas
Drivers at CT Plus at the Ash Grove garage are striking again today - the fourth consecutive Friday they've been out.
The drivers are demanding a pay rise of the RPI inflation rate plus 2 percent. CT Plus is a “social enterprise”, supposedly not run for profit, but it pays some of the lowest rates in London to drivers - while some managers get over £100,000 year!
As Derrick Campbell, Unite branch secretary at Ash Grove, explained to Socialist Worker, “We used to be a charity... But under Labour we saw the encouragement of the “third sector” of charities and voluntary organisations. It was privatisation but with a fluffy coating.”
CT Plus has grown as it has won more contracts that are tendered out by Transport for London. Drivers at some of these contracts are on different rates. CT Plus has the contract for the Olympics site in east London. 
Some drivers from there have been used on strike days to drive buses on the routes normally run out of Ash Grove. Unite needs to take the argument for solidarity to these drivers.
The strikers at CT Plus are determined. For many the strike is as much about how they are treated as about a pay rise. Derrick Campbell said, “Managers called people in one by one last week to get them to accept the 1 percent pay rise they’ve imposed... They try to divide and rule.”
Drivers say they will stay out until Christmas if that’s what it takes. More strike dates are expected to be called soon.

26 Oct 2010

Brian Souter gets richer and richer

Stagecoach tycoon Brian Souter's fortune has soared during the economic downturn - with his "recession-proof" investments now worth £400 million. Mr Souter revealed the value of his fund has rocketed by 41 per cent in just three years.
His family's Souter Investments has a 14 per cent holding in Stagecoach - as well as undisclosed stakes in firms including insurance giant esure and price comparison website gocompare. The portfolio's value has grown from £250 million in 2007 to £400 million today.
Mr Souter - whose joint wealth with Mrs Gloag was put at £610 million in the 2010 Sunday Times Rich List - said: "The reason the value has risen is the type of investments we had were quite recession-proof. Souter Investments also has stakes in bus maker Alexander Dennis, luxury yacht company Sunseeker International and biodiesel firm Argent Energy.

20 Oct 2010

Stagecoach buys East London Bus Group

Transport giant Stagecoach is buying back ELBG - a company it sold four years ago - at a fraction of the cost. It sold its London bus operations to Macquarie Bank in June 2006 for around £264m. ELBG subsequently saw a decline in profitability before going into administration. Now Stagecoach is buying it back for £52.8m.
Proceeds from the sale in 2006 were used to reduce debt at Stagecoach. At the time Macquarie said Stagecoach’s London operations suited its need for assets with a predictable cash flow. But it put ELBG up for sale earlier this year amid a backlash from staff after attempts were made to cut wages in order to shore up falling profits.
What does Stagecoach boss Brian Souter have in mind for workers at ELBG? His plan is to improve the operational performance of the company and to cut its back-office costs through “synergies”. That sounds a lot like job cuts.
ELBG is the third largest operator in London, with 15% of the market. It runs 1,400 buses from ten depots. For the year to April, it generated revenues of £254m - mostly from a fixed-fee contract with TfL.

Managers ‘desperate’ at CT Plus

By Mark L Thomas
Drivers at CT Plus’s Ash Grove garage in Hackney struck again last Friday in their battle for decent pay. It was the second of four planned one-day strikes. More than 30 pickets were outside the Ash Grove garage by 8am.
CT Plus bus drivers are paid some of the lowest rates in London, and many say there is a culture of bullying at the firm.
Some drivers who had crossed the picket line the previous Friday joined the latest strike. Managers have also been driving buses. One picket spotted a senior manager out driving a 388. “He earns between £80,000 and £90,000 a year—he must be desperate,” said the striker.
The dispute at CT Plus underlines the urgent need to return to a fight for a single rate of pay and uniform terms and conditions across all of London’s bus firms. As one driver put it, “We need better pay—the same as other bus companies. “We all do the same job, we all come under Transport for London.”

18 Oct 2010

Strike threat over Blackpool's 'fat' bus drivers

Drivers in Blackpool could strike if two colleagues, suspended for being too fat, are not immediately allowed back behind the wheel. Union bosses will hold crunch talks with Blackpool Transport management on Monday – amid a stark warning from the union.
The Unite Union today said if the drivers were not allowed back to work its 400 members, who work for the bus and tram operator, will ballot on whether to take industrial action. That could be up to and including strikes.
As The Gazette exclusively revealed earlier this week, anger is mounting over the decision to suspend the two bus drivers. Unions say the two men were told they had to lose 7lbs in the next four weeks or face suspension without pay.
John Boughton, Unite regional organiser said: "We are hoping to resolve this sensitive matter when we have the meeting with management on Monday. We will be asking for the two drivers to be reinstated immediately."

15 Oct 2010

Drivers to blame for accidents? It’s the pursuit of profit that’s deadly

Manila, Phillipines
When a bus plunged into a ravine in Benguet province in August, killing 42 people, its bus driver was immediately blamed even in the absence of an investigation. In that accident — and even in one the same month in Bicol where a beauty queen died and last year in Metro Manila where a young girl was killed – bus drivers were immediately accused of being drug addicts, reckless and unruly.
It is an accusation that doesn’t sit well with Sandy Hachoso, 40, a bus conductor who is also president of the Kabisig Bus Transport Workers Alliance, based in Manila.
It is convenient for the government to quickly pin the blame on drivers, Hachoso said, but real solutions to problems concerning transport safety would continue to elude the country if the government persists in demonizing the drivers while the sector remains “too deregulated,” He said President Aquino, who earlier called for a review of the factors causing these accidents, had ignored a “very vital issue” that affects the safety concerns of the industry: the working condition of the drivers.

Overworked milk cows 
Because of the largely privatized system of running the country’s public transport, especially the relatively more capital-intensive bus sector, bus operators are given much leeway in how they treat their drivers, conductors and mechanics. Based on practices in their sector, Hachoso said, “it would seem like the public transport sector is not covered by the Labor Code.”
A bus driver and conductor in Metro Manila usually work 18 to 20 hours on an average working day, for four to five days a week. “Because of low commissions, they are obliged to increase the number of their trips to increase their take-home pay,” Hachoso said.
It is the high stress of a very long working day and the chase for that pitiful commission that trigger competition among bus drivers and conductors for passengers. That they are forced to do so is the main reason why accidents happen, explained Hachoso.

Research on fatigue 
In a June 2008 report on The Journal Of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, John D. Lee pored through 50 years of safety driving research and said at one point that “Fatigue represents a less prominent safety problem that may be under-reported because, unlike with alcohol, no forensic test can measure its presence.”
Smartmotorist.com cited a study by National Central University in Jhongli, Tatung University, Taiwan that “driving for just 80 minutes without a break can make motorists a danger on the roads.” They found that “drivers who do not take frequent rest stops have slower reactions than those who break up long journeys.”
It also cited recent international research suggesting that “driver fatigue is underrepresented in accident statistics, and some estimates show that it could be a contributing factor in twenty to twenty four percent of fatal crashes.”
To improve road safety, Hachoso urged the government to look deeply into the plight and working conditions of bus drivers and conductors and to consider the deregulation of public transport industry in the Philippines. The government “has given capitalists too much freedom to manage and profit from servicing public transport needs. The result is that the quality of this public service has suffered, causing hundreds of deaths in road accidents that could have been avoided.”

13 Oct 2010

Drivers at Stagecoach Merseyside accept offer

Bus drivers at Stagecoach Merseyside have voted to accept a pay offer of 3.1 percent for this year, 2 percent for next year and £150 back pay.
Workers struck for four days in August after being offered 2 percent for this year. Further strikes were suspended when new, worse offers were tabled. Momentum was lost but a large minority of 80 out of around 300 still voted to reject the deal.

Report from CT Plus picket line

Dozens of bus drivers at CT Plus in Hackney, east London, picketed their depot on Friday of last week over pay. Drivers in passing cars and buses from other companies expressed their support for the pickets. The drivers, who are in the Unite union, have been given a paltry 1 percent pay rise. They are demanding the RPI rate of inflation, currently running at 4.7 percent, plus 2 percent.
CT Plus is a “social enterprise” where profits are meant to be reinvested for a social purpose. David Cameron wants more social enterprises running public services as part of his “Big Society”.
However, this employer is no friend of workers. The website of the HCT group— CT Plus’s parent company—boasts about a turnover of £23.3 million last year. But workers at CT Plus remain some of the lowest paid drivers in London.
As one explained, “They’re making lots of money and winning new contracts for bus routes. We need to see a bit of it too.” Drivers get nothing extra for working weekends. “You might be getting up at 3am on a Sunday to work but it’s just the normal rate,” said a driver. “In fact, because Sunday’s a shorter shift than a normal day, you earn less.”
Derrick Campbell, the Unite union rep for Ash Grove depot, told Socialist Worker, “Profits are up, but the average salary rate has gone down. Management are trying to divide and rule.”
Despite refusing to make a decent pay offer, bosses are offering £30 a day extra to drivers to work during strikes and a £150 bonus for anyone who works over all four strikes. “Our strike ballot mandate means we can call more action after the days already planned,” said Derrick.

11 Oct 2010

"30 pieces of silver" fails to break Hackney strike

Four-hour strikes across East London will go ahead after an offer of "30 pieces of silver" was rejected by drivers. Last Friday 185 employees at CT Plus walked out over pay. Two more strikes are scheduled for the following Fridays. 
Regional secretary Steve Hart said the company has been offering money to workers to break the strike. He claims CT Plus has been paying an extra £270 for every worker who crosses the picket line. He added "This is money that could go a long way towards settling the dispute... [CT Plus's profits] come from the public purse. Our members will not be fooled by these 30 pieces of silver."

8 Oct 2010

Hackney bus workers walk out over pay

Bus workers in Hackney began a 24-hour strike this morning in a row over pay. The Unite union said 185 employees at CT Plus based at the Ash Grove Depot walked out at 4am this morning. Union members want mayor Boris Johnson to meet with them to discuss better wages. They are threatening to repeat the walkout for the next three Fridays.

6 Oct 2010

Merseyside strike called off - again!

A planned strike by bus workers at Stagecoach Merseyside was called off on Friday of last week, after management offered a new pay deal.
Workers were voting on the deal as Socialist Worker went to press. The new offer is 5.1 percent over two years, with some of the money backdated. Yet this is only 0.1 percent more than the original offer—which was lowered to 4 percent on the eve of an earlier planned strike.
The deal also contains promises to resolve issues over workplace harassment. Unite union reps report that this increased during the dispute and become a key issue.
Workers should reject the new offer and return to strikes. Management can’t get away with making last minute “offers”—in some cases even worse than the original—to get action suspended. The best way to beat bullying is to show that workers won’t be pushed around.

4 Oct 2010

Rapid victory for all-out strike in Bangladesh

The Bangladesh Road Transport Workers' Federation called off an indefinite strike today just hours after it began - as the local administration caved in, and promised to meet their demands.
The strike started at 6am today in all sixteen northern districts. But by 1.30pm the drivers were back at work. The demands include withdrawal of 'false' cases filed against transport workers, the unconditional release of transport workers, and the end of extortion on the highways and 'harassment' of transport workers by law enforcers.