27 Feb 2012

FirstGroup tries to flog London bus operations

Stagecoach has walked away from talks with arch-rival FirstGroup about taking over London bus assets that have been on the auction block for months. It is understood they could not agree on a price.
The depots thought to be up for sale are Dagenham, Northumberland Park and Leigh in east London, with Stagecoach thought to be particularly interested in Dagenham. That would mesh with Stagecoach’s other bus operations in the area, which include Barking, Bow, Leyton, Romford, West Ham and Catford.

How London is carved up
Souter’s group currently has a 15 per cent share of the London market, while FirstGroup is the fifth-biggest player with 13 per cent. The market leaders are Go-Ahead with 21 per cent, and Arriva with 20 per cent. One industry source said: “I would have thought Stagecoach would have been the front runner for the assets FirstGroup doesn’t want... Stagecoach has the balance sheet strength to do it.” By contrast, it is thought Go-Ahead is constrained in bidding for the FirstGroup assets by hefty debts, while Arriva is now owned by Deutsche Bahn and is seen as being mainly focused on its trains business.

23 Feb 2012

Zimbabwe: police corruption sparks strike

Commuter omnibus drivers on the Harare-Norton route have threatened to strike against what they termed harassment and extortion by traffic police along the Harare-Bulawayo Road. The operators said each bus was being made to part with an average of $50 a day in bribes. They said there were five police roadblocks along the 40km stretch and at each point police demanded $5, which adds up to $10 for a round trip.
National traffic police spokesperson Inspector Tigere Chigome yesterday refused to comment on the threatened boycott. “We don’t know about that and I cannot comment on what I don’t know”. One driver described his experience: “They don’t even come to us and search our vehicles... They just ask for money and if we don’t comply, they write a ticket for $20 which is unfair to us.”

21 Feb 2012

South Yorkshire victory: more details

by George Arthur  
Striking bus workers in Barnsley and Rawmarsh have won a significant victory in their battle over low pay with Stagecoach. Drivers voted on Friday of last week to accept a new offer of a pay rise to £9.05 an hour plus £130 back pay. They are members of the Unite union.
After 12 strike days, massive picket lines and a march through Barnsley town centre, Stagecoach was forced to grant concessions it said would never happen. The previous offer did not include back pay. It also involved a number of strings that would have removed benefits from drivers. These strings have since been withdrawn. 

Just a few weeks ago management insisted there would never be any back pay—because the funds had gone to pay scabs instead. The drivers had originally been demanding a 26p an hour rise to £9 an hour. Stagecoach responded by spending vast sums on hiring scab drivers from across Britain on strike days. 
Some 251 drivers voted to accept the new offer, an overwhelming majority. But 35 drivers voted against. This is a clear warning to Stagecoach that negotiations in future will not be a pushover. 

The strike has built strong union branches. Tony Rushforth is a Unite branch secretary at the Barnsley depot. He said, “I am very proud of the members who refused to give in and who stood solid to the end.” He added, “I would also like to express my gratitude to all those who supported us through this strike—Barnsley trades council and all the other union branches who made donations. “All this amounts to some fantastic demonstrations of solidarity. Thank you all—we will never forget what you have all done.”


20 Feb 2012

South Yorkshire strikers win their demands

Stagecoach drivers at Rawmarsh and Barnsley garages have called off any further action after agreeing a pay deal with their company. Drivers who are members of the Unite started industrial action last November over an imposed pay rate of £8.74 per hour. After 12 days of strike action, a ballot took place on Friday when drivers voted overwhelmingly to accept an improved pay offer of an hourly rate of £9.05 plus back pay.

19 Feb 2012

Transport strike paralyses Berlin

Berlin’s underground, tram and bus network ground to a halt on Saturday as public transport workers went on strike for higher wages. “The strikes on Saturday are just a light warning” said Andreas Splanemann, spokesman for services union Verdi. He added that if their demand for a wage matching inflation rates was not met, the situation would escalate. 

15 Feb 2012

South Yorkshire strike still going strong

4 Feb: A protest in solidarity with the strikers organised by the local trades council
by George Arthur  
Barnsley bus drivers finished their twelfth strike day on a high note. Some 70 of them were on the picket line from 5.30am until lunchtime on Friday of last week. The Unite union members are now giving Stagecoach management a couple of weeks to respond to the union’s demands for a decent wage and back pay to last June. A mass meeting of the drivers has been organised for this Sunday. Further action will follow if Stagecoach does not improve its offer. 
The strike is holding strong despite the hardship drivers face. One of the small minority of drivers who had been crossing the picket line rejoined the strike on Friday. 

Managers are trying to intimidate strikers with a number of unpleasant tactics. “They are looking for any excuse to pull people into the office,” one picket told Socialist Worker. “I was given a grilling for driving with a hat in the cold because it did not have Stagecoach printed on it.” Another picket told of how he had applied for another job. But Stagecoach is refusing to fill out a reference while the dispute is ongoing. 
Management have also refused to allow strikers any overtime working. Because basic wages have been so low many drivers rely on overtime to make up a wage they can live on. Some drivers have regularly been working 13 days every two weeks. “Stagecoach wants to starve us back,” one union rep said. “But the collections that are coming in will make sure that we can keep fighting.” 

A Barnsley striker spoke at a public meeting in the town last Saturday that marked the 40th anniversary of the closing of Saltley gate. A collection at the meeting raised £100 for the hardship fund.
Messages of support should be emailed to Barnsley Unite branch secretary Tony Rushforth at a-rushforth@sky.com Cheques should be made payable to TGWU 9/9 Barnsley and sent to A Rushforth, 45 Tune Street, Wombwell, Barnsley S73 8PX

13 Feb 2012

COSATU intervenes after strikers are fired

Gauteng Province, South Africa 
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is seeking an urgent meeting with Gautrain management after 300 bus drivers were fired for going on an illegal strike. COSATU said the drivers (who are employed by Mega Express) have been outsourced. It argues this is a mechanism to shift the responsibility for fair labour practices.  
One of the drivers said “We welcome anyone who can assist us in this dilemma. We will be approaching the Gauteng Legislature to intervene. We cannot be treated like this in a democratic country".

8 Feb 2012

Olympic bonuses - at Virgin Rail

Unite is campaigning for a £500 Olympic bonus for London bus drivers. We saw more evidence today of what can be won if a union exerts enough pressure – when Virgin Rail staff with the RMT secured a £500 Olympics and Paralympics payment. It is part of a package which will also see wages and allowances rise by 4.6% or £950 (whichever is the greater) from April this year. The latest agreement comes on top of other Olympics bonus deals won by the RMT:  
  • Network Rail: £500 flat rate
  • London Overground: minimum of £600 guaranteed – with more for the majority of staff.
  • Docklands Light Railway: £900 flat rate plus guaranteed overtime at enhanced rates making the deal worth around £2,500
  • Negotiations with London Underground are continuing.

Barnsley rallies for striking drivers

by Anindya Bhattacharyya 
Bus drivers in Barnsley and Rawmarsh staged a town centre demo last Saturday to mark the start of four more days of strikes in their battle over pay. Some 120 Stagecoach drivers, trade unionists and other supporters marched from Barnsley bus station to a rally in the town’s main shopping area.  

Union representatives from Barnsley trade council, Unite, GMB, Unison and NUT spoke at the rally pledging their support and solidarity for the drivers. Saturday was the ninth strike day for the Stagecoach drivers. They also struck on Monday of this week, and plan to walk out on Wednesday and Friday too.  
Pickets have remained strong and lively. Over 90 drivers picketed Barnsley station on Saturday and over 70 joined the picket on Monday. The drivers want a pay rise of 26p an hour to bring them up to £9 an hour, backdated to the start of June last year. The company is refusing to fund the back pay—choosing to spend money on funding scab buses instead.

These are driven by Stagecoach managers shipped in to Barnsley from around the country and put up in hotels overnight. Many people in Barnsley are avoiding the scab buses, despite the reduced £1 fares. “We have regular passengers refusing to catch the scab services,” said Unite branch secretary Tony Rushforth. Passengers are catching services from other bus operators or even walking in to town, he added. One supporter at the rally said eight people at his bus stop that day had refused to board a Stagecoach service.

6 Feb 2012

Canada: support for transit strike grows

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada 
As the strike by bus and ferry workers employed by Metro Transit enters its fifth day, picketing continues day and night. Ken Wilson, president of their ATU union branch, said people are dropping off coffee, gift cards and sandwiches to the workers, and labour groups are lending tents and camping stoves. “If 763 workers are prepared to lose their pay and stand out in -18 C weather for four-hour shifts, then that has to tell you it must be worth it,” he said. 

3 Feb 2012

Canada: bus and ferry workers strike together

Nova Scotia, Canada
The first transit strike in Halifax since 1998 began yesterday as bus and ferry workers walked out. More than 700 workers walked off the job just after 1.30 am, after union representatives rejected Metro Transit's latest proposal. The dispute is principally over changes to schedules.
Ken Wilson is president of Local 508 of the Amalgamated Transit Union. He said workers want to keep the flexibility they have now when it comes to scheduling. Currently, bus drivers can pick different shifts to make up a week, based on seniority.  
"Over 80 per cent of my people are divorced. The flexibility in picking our work is what keeps people sometimes together, it's what allows a single parent to be involved in a child's life". "We've been picking our work cafeteria style for 104 years. Why all of a sudden in 2012, is it such a big issue?"

South Africa: Third day of wildcat strike

Gauteng Province, South Africa
The Gautrain bus service remains suspended today, due to an illegal strike by bus drivers, the operator said. Management attempted to set up a scabbing operation, but it crumbled. “Unfortunately, in the short period of the illegal strike the drivers from the skeletal bus service were intimidated and are unhappy to continue working,” said company spokesman Errol Braithwaite.  
He added that they had locked the striking drivers out of the depot in Midrand. “We are not going to let them in until the issues are resolved. It is difficult to have meaningful discussions with the drivers who are not represented by a union anymore”. The Gautrain drivers, who used to be members of the SA Transport and Allied Workers' Union (Satawu), have left the union and are now acting independently.

2 Feb 2012

Cyprus: striking drivers speak out

Drivers in Cyprus began a nationwide indefinite strike yesterday, to demand the wages they've yet to be paid for January. The government was locked in negotiations with the bus operators all day yesterday and by last night drivers in the city of Larnaca had agreed to suspend their action. The other bus companies said they would make an official statement today. 
Those drivers still on strike remain determined. “We shall not back down” was the prevailing sentiment among roughly 170 strikers at the main station in Solomou Square in Nicosia. “The payment of our salary is our unequivocal right” wrote most placards.  

“Every month it’s the same old story, it’s unbelievable that we have to go on strike to demand the bare minimum from our work, which is our wage” said Sotiroulla Andreou, one of five female bus drivers working on rural destinations from Nicosia. 
“It’s the first of the month and I haven’t been paid, bills are piling up, fuel prices are going up and the Electricity Authority is threatening to impose fines on late payments and I don’t know what to do,” said Nikos Panayiotou, a bus driver and father of four. 

“How are we going to pay our bills on time and not incur fines when we are not paid?” questioned Andrekos Stephanou, a bus driver wearing an eighties mullet hairstyle. 
“The ministry and the bus company are completely detached from reality and they don’t understand that without wages, people have no money to buy the bare necessities,” Athos Malas, another bus driver said. Stelios Stephanides, who emigrated to Cyprus a few years ago described, almost in tears how with a wage of roughly €1,200, and with his wife currently receiving a disability pension of around €200, he was struggling to make ends meet. 

“We are not asking anything unreasonable. We are neither the crème de la crème of the civil service nor air traffic controllers, and we are not demanding pay rises or benefits, simply that we are paid our wages” said Andreas Stylianou. 
The bus drivers said that public transport lacked the correct planning and infrastructure and said that a possible nationalisation of the service could solve some of the issues.

South Africa: striking drivers defy the law

Gauteng Province, South Africa
Bus services for the Gautrain have once again been brought to a screeching halt by an illegal strike. Drivers have put the brakes on, calling their second illegal strike within a month.
The first strike was on 9 January, and resulted in a court order being issued on 13 January which ordered drivers to go back to work. Drivers had struck over a demand that the company provide transport for them to and from work.  
Gautrain management took disciplinary action against the drivers involved. The drivers retaliated by applying for their own court order. The Johannesburg Labour Court dismissed their application on 1 February. “[This] appears to have been the catalyst for the drivers once again deserting their routes,” said company spokesman Errol Braithwaite. An ultimatum was issued to all striking drivers to be back at work by 3pm on 1 February, but this was ignored. Bus services have been suspended until further notice.

1 Feb 2012

Action accelerates in South Yorkshire

by George Arthur  
Stagecoach bus drivers in Barnsley and Rawmarsh have stepped up their fight to improve their wages. They plan strikes on alternating days next week. A mass meeting of drivers, members of the Unite union, rejected Stagecoach’s latest offer. The company has refused to backdate any pay increases to 1 June last year, as the drivers demand. The workers voted to strike on 4, 6, 8 and 10 February, and to follow this up with further strikes if managers do not produce a reasonable offer.  
Other bus drivers recognise the importance of this dispute. “We’re expecting delegations to our next strike from areas as far away as Ayrshire,” a union rep said. Bus drivers attended a meeting of Barnsley trades council on Wednesday of last week to explain details of their case. Delegates were shocked to hear how it took eight strike days to force Stagecoach managers to negotiate over wages. “Stagecoach took us over six years ago and we’ve had very little increase in our wages,” one driver said.

Another added that managers look very tired when they turn up at 5am to operate a scab service on strike days. “They hate it when we strike on a Saturday—it spoils their weekend,” the driver said. An FBU rep told Barnsley trades council how he had boarded a Stagecoach bus by mistake on the first strike day. When he realised there was a strike on, he asked the driver why he was scabbing. “He told me he wasn’t a scab, he was a manager. I told the rest of the bus passengers that the driver was a scab, that I would not travel on a scab bus and was getting off. A load of other passengers got off with me.”  
Few passengers are using Stagecoach buses on strike days. People have visited picket lines to say they were involved in the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike and would never use a bus driven by a scab. Barnsley College lecturers gave money to the drivers’ hardship fund, citing the difference that solidarity had made to their own recent dispute.  
“That gave strength to our members to fight on until we succeeded,” said a UCU rep. “We want the bus drivers to see that they can win.”  

The trades council voted to organise a demonstration in Barnsley on the first strike day this Saturday. Workers hope to see union branches from around the area turning up with banners: Saturday 4 February, 10.30am, assemble at Barnsley bus station for a rally at the picket line followed by a march through Barnsley town centre.  
Messages of support should be emailed to Barnsley Unite branch secretary Tony Rushforth at a-rushforth@sky.com Cheques should be made payable to TGWU 9/9 Barnsley and sent to A Rushforth, 45 Tune Street, Wombwell, Barnsley S73 8PX

Cyprus: drivers on indefinite strike

Bus drivers across Cyprus began an indefinite strike today because they have not been paid their wages for January. They are caught in the middle of a dispute between the bus operators and the state. 
The operators claim the government has not paid them the agreed subsidies and in turn they have no cash to pay their employees. The government says it has transferred enough cash for the companies to pay staff and accused them of using strike action as leverage to get more money. 
Communications Minister Efthymios Flourentzos said €4.0 million had been transferred into the companies’ accounts yesterday, an amount that “is more than enough to pay any obligations to the bus drivers”. The minister said €710,000 went to Nicosia, €1.5 million to Limassol, €250,000 to Paphos and the rest to the two companies in Larnaca and Famagusta.