30 Mar 2011

Pay row over royal wedding

Drivers working for London Sovereign bus company in Harrow and Edgware have launched a petition demanding bank holiday pay rates for Saturday 29 April – the day of the royal wedding. Robert Laird, one of the organisers of the petition, told Socialist Worker, “Normally drivers and engineers are paid a premium rate for working on public holidays.” Management have entered into discussions with drivers about the petition.

Vote for action at East London Bus Group

Stagecoach managers at the East London Bus Group have offered drivers’ union reps another day of talks over proposals to slash pay by 15 percent or sack 250 drivers.
It comes after the Unite union balloted some drivers on Friday of last week. Many drivers have complained about the wording of the ballot. The first question asked if drivers wanted negotiations to continue. The second asked whether they wanted to be balloted for industrial action.
Workers voted by 987 to 413 to continue negotiations, and by 399 to 26 to be balloted for industrial action. But drivers answering yes to negotiations were told they could not answer the second question. “Of course we want our reps to negotiate—but they shouldn’t be posed as contradicting one another,” one driver told Socialist Worker.
“Drivers are angry. In our mass meetings last week people talked about the need to stand up to these attacks... When management put an offer on the table we should be balloted on it, and we should be balloted for industrial action if we reject it.”

28 Mar 2011

Go-Ahead expands in East London

Go-Ahead’s Docklands Buses is to expand significantly in September this year after winning five contracts in the latest round of London tendering. These will require 62 new buses, and are for services in east London which have been won from First and Stagecoach.
A total of 19 contracts were awarded, requiring over 100 new buses. The only other contract to change operators was a two-vehicle service, lost by Stagecoach to London Central.

25 Mar 2011

Services slashed in the North East

Bus passengers across the North East face a bleak future of massive fare hikes and "vanishing" services, an inquiry by MPs was told on Tuesday.
Council chiefs and bus firms warned of a "perfect financial storm" about to strike, because of simultaneous cuts to town hall funding, bus grants and concessionary fare schemes.
Fares in some areas - including Teesside and North Yorkshire - will raise by an eye-watering ten per cent this year, one bus giant told the transport select committee.
Meanwhile, rural services are disappearing rapidly. More than 70 routes are expected to be scrapped or reduced in County Durham, with nearly 30 services under threat in North Yorkshire.
Durham has also backed plans to charge the elderly and disabled 50p for local bus travel before 9.30am, on weekdays - and free school bus passes are being lined up for the axe in both areas.
Town halls have suffered cuts of up to 28 per cent in transport grants, while the fuel subsidy paid to bus operators will shrink by 20 per cent from next January.

Forest of Dean: strike two

Stagecoach bus drivers in the Dean are planning another strike. More than 20 drivers picketed the Berry Hill depot last Friday and they plan to strike again for 24 hours unless they have a pay dispute resolved.
Trevor Hall, regional officer for Unite, said “We’ve been offered a one per cent pay rise, but with the retail price index running at five per cent, that just isn’t good enough... We are calling for three per cent but so far management have refused to budge.”

23 Mar 2011

ELBG: drivers discuss ballot for strikes

Drivers working for the East London Bus Group are meeting this week to vote on whether to begin a ballot for strikes. The Unite union members are facing a serious attack on pay and conditions. Bosses are demanding a 15 percent wage cut—or the sacking of 250 workers with only statutory redundancy pay. For many workers the cut will mean losing around £100 a week.

18 Mar 2011

Attack on driver provokes strike in Buenos Aires

A bus driver was attacked this morning in the area of Bosques, in the Florencio Varela neighbourhood. The driver of the 324 route had his finger amputated by the attackers, which provoked a protest and strike from other drivers, demanding an improvement in security.
The incident occurred at 1.30am, when the 34-year old driver Jorge Barrios was making his daily route through Bosques neighbourhood.
The brutal amputation he suffered led him to have emergency surgery in the Quilmes ClĂ­nica Modelo, and he is now said to be stable. Drivers from the 324 route began their protest strike at 6.30am.

Stagecoach strike in the Forest of Dean

Stagecoach drivers from the Forest are striking today in protest at what they call poor working conditions and unreliable buses.
Around 20 drivers will picket the Berry Hill depot after repeated breakdowns on routes across the Dean. They claim many of the vehicles are no longer fit for use and have slammed the way they have been treated by company bosses.
Drivers across the county had considered industrial action over a pay increase of 1 per cent but have since backed down. But staff in the Forest say their stand is no longer about pay.
A driver, who did not want to be named, said: "It is not about pay anymore it's about working conditions and the state of the buses. "One bus broke down on Tuesday night and three the day before. It is just not acceptable." He said that Stagecoach West's managing director Ian Manning had told employees they could leave if they weren't happy.

15 Mar 2011

Analysis: transport giants devour the competition

Transport companies are on the brink of a mergers and acquisitions boom, according to analysis by KPMG, which says cheaper debt, higher fuel prices and the drive for global scale are combining to make big deals irresistible.
According to figures from Dealogic, the number of deals in the global transport and logistics sector rose 13 per cent to 892 in 2010, compared with just 3 per cent in the overall market. The value of deals jumped 224 per cent to $892bn (£553bn) last year.
Government austerity programmes will also drive deals. Last year, the British government sold the High Speed 1 railway line. It is now pressing ahead with plans to sell Nats, the air traffic control service.
Throughout Europe, governments are also liberalising bus and rail services, with cash-strapped local authorities seeking private investors. The big four British transport groups – Stagecoach, FirstGroup, Go Ahead and National Express – are competing for some of these contracts, as are state-owned transport companies, such as Deutsche Bahn, which are being forced to look further afield.
Deutsche Bahn’s £1.59bn takeover last year of Arriva, the UK bus and rail operator, was, in part, motivated by this. So is the high number of foreign bidders seeking to win the London to Glasgow West Coast rail franchise in 2012.
Douglas McNeill, analyst at Charles Stanley, sees UK bus and rail operators as potential forces in any dealmaking surge, and not just in Europe. Although they have big businesses in the US, they have yet to make serious inroads into emerging markets in Asia or Latin America.
Moir Lockheed, outgoing chief executive of First Group, speculated as much in October when he said the company could move into India, where the transport infrastructure is sagging under the weight of the increasing population.
But perhaps the biggest driver towards consolidation will be the rocketing oil price and political uncertainty in the Middle East. In the wake of the 2008 price spike, Delta merged with Air Northwest, while BA agreed to merge with Iberia of Spain.

14 Mar 2011

Drivers and conductors strike over ‘bribery’

Moshi, Tanzania
Drivers and conductors on the route between Moshi and Holili in the Kilimanjaro Region struck over the weekend. They were protesting at a move by the traffic police to force them to pay Sh2,000 per day for each bus, which they consider a bribe.

11 Mar 2011

Attack on our right to strike

After the Mayor of Toronto's motion that public transport be declared an “essential service,” Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is now trying to rush through legislation to take away workers’ right to strike before their contract expires on March 31.
Labour Minister Charles Sousa justified the attack by stating “the impact of TTC service disruptions would send economic and environmental shock waves across this province,” while media claim that each day lost to a transit strike costs the city of Toronto $50 million. But this is pure hypocrisy – and a clear attempt to distract from the Ontario government’s $4 billion funding cuts to public transport.

9 Mar 2011

Allegations of poor maintenance by Stagecoach

Last week Stagecoach appeared before the Scottish Traffic Commissioner over alleged poor maintenance it is claimed was linked to a number of fires on buses based at the company's Dundee depot. The public inquiry into the Perth-based company was also looking at allegations a number of vehicles from bases across the country lost wheels.
The two-day hearing in front of traffic commissioner Joan Aitken came after a year-long investigation by government group, the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA). VOSA uncovered claims of "wheel loss incidents" at the company's bus operations in Dundee, Fife and Glasgow, as well as the reported fires from the Dundee base. 
Four Stagecoach buses went on fire over a nine-month period on Tayside's roads, with the last one in July last year. The bus burst into flames just minutes after dropping off a group of children. Less than a week earlier, a suspected electrical fault caused the number 20 service from Kirriemuirto Dundee to catch fire. In September 2009, another two Stagecoach buses caught fire within a week of each other.
The commissioner has the power to fine companies if reports of maintenance shortcomings are upheld, or withdraw or limit their licence.

East London Bus Group: drivers face 15% pay cut

Socialist Worker has uncovered a serious attack on pay and conditions of bus drivers working for the capital’s third-largest operator, East London Bus Group. Bosses are demanding a 15 percent wage cut, or agreement that 250 workers will be made compulsory redundant with only statutory redundancy pay.
Stagecoach sold the East London Bus Group to Australian bank Macquarie for £264 million in 2006. Last October, it re-bought the company for a mere £59.9 million after it went into administration. Despite the massive profit, Stagecoach want to squeeze workers. They say that they expect to keep a 15 percent profit margin at all times.
Many drivers say that they had expected conditions to improve when Stagecoach took over again—pay has been frozen for the past few years.
Stagecoach is said to be proposing to achieve its 15 percent pay cut through increasing drivers’ hours, removing enhancements and roster earnings, and imposing a fixed salary. For many workers the cut will mean losing around £100 a week.
It is vital that the drivers’ Unite union communicates the extent of the attack to the workforce. Mass members meetings could give union reps the confidence to stand up to this assault. The union should move to ballot members for strikes if management don’t back down.

7 Mar 2011

Union official killed at protest

Pretoria, South Africa
The municipal strike in Tshwane took a violent turn yesterday when a union leader was killed during a scuffle with police. The official was among more than 1,000 Tshwane municipal bus service and waste removal workers who marched to the the city's bus depot demanding that the municipality make public a report into allegations of corruption among top officials.
According to the municipality's spokesperson Willie Baloyi "They were told that the gathering was illegal but they refused to disperse. They started vandalising the offices, breaking windows and doors. They went on to throw stones at passing vehicles... We then used rubber bullets to disperse them". 
Veli Kubheka, speaking for the strikers' union Samwu, confirmed that a union official was killed during the standoff. He added "Our members were not violent at all and were shot at because they were in an illegal gathering... We condemn the metro police's strong-handedness on harmless protesters. They should have arrested them instead of opening fire on them".

4 Mar 2011

Huddersfield strike postponed after new pay offer

Drivers are to vote on a new pay offer – after threatening to strike in Huddersfield on Monday. The First drivers will vote on an improved offer after a bitter 11-month pay dispute.
The latest offer was made after talks yesterday between Unite union officials and First managers. Now the union will put the offer to the 188 drivers who work out of Huddersfield bus station.
The ballot will take place next week and that means the planned 24-hour walkout which could have taken place on Monday has been cancelled. Drivers had voted 129-16 in favour of eight one-day strikes in a postal ballot.
The dispute centres on a pay award which was due in May 2010. The union said the original management offer was with conditions which would effectively mean extra driving time on top of the 37-hour week currently met by the drivers. But yesterday a revised offer was made although details have not been revealed. The drivers currently earn between £7.48 and £10,25 per hour.

2 Mar 2011

Metroline workers accept pay offer

Workers at Metroline bus garages in north and north west London voted to accept a pay offer from management on Friday of last week. The vote was 56 percent to accept, 44 percent to reject.
Some garages voted by as much as 90 percent to reject, others voted by 84 percent to accept and some were split down the middle. The pay dispute has dragged on since April of last year. In December workers voted by an overwhelming 87 percent in an indicative ballot to be balloted for industrial action.
The new offer that has been accepted is a slight improvement on the initial offer—a 2 percent rise on all rates of pay from 2010 with 1.5 percent in back pay from April 2010. The Unite union asked members to reject the new offer but the discrepancy in voting across garages shows that there was not sufficient unity to win the ballot.
Some workers were not confident that the union was prepared to fight all out to win. As the dispute dragged on for ten months, workers’ confidence was whittled down.