30 Mar 2012

Spain: transport workers join general strike

Flag-waving Spanish workers livid over labor reforms they see as flagrantly pro-business blocked traffic Thursday, forming boisterous picket lines outside wholesale markets and bus garages, as part of a nationwide strike. 
One of the strike's most noticeable effects was on public transportation, with unions guaranteeing only around 30 percent of normal service at rush hour times. The main airline, Iberia, canceled 65 percent of its flights. Spanish National TV showed footage of police in Madrid on horseback accompanying buses trying to leave a parking garage, and scuffling with a picketer.
Unions claimed massive participation in the 24-hour stoppage protesting the latest dose of bitter medicine the conservative government has prescribed to appease European Union overseers and jittery investors.

First drivers in Aberdeen vote for action

Bus drivers in Aberdeen could strike within weeks after a call from drivers for a ballot on industrial action. Unite regional officer Tommy Campbell said the “overwhelming majority” favoured walking out over a move by First Aberdeen to introduce split shifts at weekends. He said a consultative ballot of nearly 400 drivers showed they were opposed to the change.

The news comes as First Aberdeen's parent company FirstGroup (and Britain's largest bus operator) issued a profits warning. Their operating profits last year were £457.4m.

28 Mar 2012

Egyptian strikes radicalise workers further

By Anne Alexander
There is no mistaking the raw class anger in strikers’ chants across Egypt these days. “Who are they and who are we?” is a favourite of striking workers at Cairo’s Public Transport Authority (PTA). 
“They” are the “moneymen”, the corrupt and complacent politicians who promise the earth and deliver only dust. “Listen up, lords and ladies—a kilo of meat is ten pounds,” chanted the PTA workers during a protest outside parliament last week. “They’re all dressed in the latest fashion and we’re living ten to a room.” 
The 40,000 PTA workers had been on strike for two weeks as Socialist Worker went to press. The transport minister recently announced concessions and declared the strike to be over. But around 1,000 workers marched on the state TV building chanting “Lying TV! We’re still on strike.” 

The sticking point was not the increased end-of-service lump sum, nor the implementation of a 200 percent bonus payment promised to public sector workers. The workers have set their eyes on a much greater prize—returning the PTA to central government control. The slogan “Back to the Ministry of Transport” is being raised by bus workers across Egypt. 
For the PTA workers in Cairo the demand means ending the role of the local Cairo governor in running the authority. Bus workers in Alexandria and the Red Sea ports raised the same slogan in their recent strike.

High stakes

They called for complete renationalisation by dissolving the semi-privatised “holding company” running the bus service. The stakes are very high in these strikes. Both the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Islamist parties which dominate parliament are desperate to reassure big business inside and outside Egypt. 
Draft legislation curbing strikes and protests is being discussed at the moment. Attacks on strikers and trade union activists by the security forces and thugs have dramatically increased. Striking shipyard workers in Suez were arrested and jailed on the orders of a military court earlier this month. The leaders of the independent union at the Cairo PTA were ambushed by knife-wielding thugs recently.

Video: Egyptian bus workers at the heart of the new strike wave

Despite attempts by the military to break their strike, bus workers in Cairo rejected a proposed deal on Monday 26 March. They are demanding a lump sum on retirement equivalent to 100 months pay, and for the bus service to be taken over by the Ministry of Transport. To send a message of solidarity to the bus workers email menasolidarity@gmail.com

23 Mar 2012

Cairo: military tries to break bus strike

The military has deployed its own buses in several Cairo districts, in an attempt to break a 10-day strike by transport workers. The workers resumed a strike that had been suspended months ago in the 24 garages of the Public Transportation Authority (PTA) across Cairo and Giza. The PTA declined to meet the demands in an agreement that took place last September with the striking worker's independent union, workers said. 

Strike spreads
Although the strike started off with six garages, it had spread to 24 by the fifth day. The strike includes drivers on all bus routes, along with PTA workers and the authority’s engineers and technicians. “This protest includes everyone from the transport authority; we all face the same problems,” said Gamal Ibrahim, a driver who has been working at the transportation authority for 32 years. On the top of their demands, the strikers want to include the PTA under the Ministry of Transport like other train and metro workers. “Right now, we do not have an official ministry representing us and that is giving us a hard time. We are not allowed to use public transportation like the metro or trains for free, and we are being treated like scum,” said one of the drivers who preferred to remain anonymous.

The protesters are also demanding their pensions to be worth 100 months of their salary, instead of the 28 months the (PTA) gives them, which they claim is not enough compensation after working there for over 30 years. On average, salaries for the bus drivers range from LE 300 to LE 500 depending on the years they have been working. Ten percent of all salaries are deducted monthly for pensions, which the drivers claim they do not receive at the age of retirement. Other demands include better health care, and for the drivers to receive compensation for the risks they face in their jobs like other government employees.

Blamed for accidents
Besides being prone to robbery, bus drivers also face accidents that they are left to face on their own and are held responsible for. “Bus drivers who get into accidents and are taken to the police station for the investigation are left to deal with that without any help or support from the authority. The lawyers here do not care about the drivers, and all they ask for is the condition of the bus and if it can be released to be taken from the garage,” said one of the authorities’ accident officials at the Moneeb Garage, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to speak to the media.“The bus driver is also forced to pay for the damages to the bus, even if he was not responsible for the accident.”
The drivers said that they are required to work five rounds per day on average, and receive LE 7 compensation for the five rounds. However, they get LE 2 deductions for each round they miss. Drivers complain that failing to meet the minimum quota of the rounds is mainly due to conditions out of their hands (mostly the heavy traffic).

Drivers accuse the authority of neglecting the state of the buses they drive, which is the reason behind most of the accidents that take place. “The tyres that are being used are not good enough for driving. They don’t care about the lives of the people who ride the buses; they are jeopardizing their safety,” said driver Nabeel Mofeed. “We demand they conduct regular checks on the buses. Every time a bus breaks down and we go for maintenance they use old spare parts,” he added.

"Shaking hands of the state"
The strike of the public transport workers was suspended and resumed repeatedly, a trend that Head of Center for Trade Unions and Worker's Services (CTUWS) Kamal Abbas described as a sign of the "shaking hands of the Egyptian state." "The culture of negotiations adopted by the Egyptian government has to develop," Abbas told DNE, adding that the government never committed to its promises to the workers.

22 Mar 2012

Portugal: transport workers strike against austerity

A strike by Portugal’s largest trade union confederation forced the cancellation of most public transport services today as well as hitting schools and hospital services. The Lisbon subway, was closed. Train, bus and ferry companies in the capital and the second-largest city Porto provided only occasional services.
Some schools sent children home because teachers and auxiliary staff stayed away from work, while hospitals and health centres postponed or cancelled appointments. The General Confederation of Portuguese Workers, representing more than 600,000 mostly blue-collar and public sector workers, called the 24-hour stoppage to protest against austerity measures and labour reforms attached to Portugal’s €78bn bailout last year.
Pay cuts and tax hikes have helped keep the economy in recession for a second straight year and push the unemployment rate to a record of 14.8%. Portugal’s other large workers’ confederation, the General Workers’ Union, did not join today’s strike. Earlier this year it endorsed an agreement with the government and businesses that makes it easier for employers to hire and fire workers.

19 Mar 2012

Germany: bus workers join public sector strike

Public service workers in parts of Germany walked out on strike today in a dispute over pay. The ver.di union wants a 6.5% increase this year for 2 million federal and municipal government employees. Last week, it rejected an offer of a 3.3% increase over two years, saying it would not even keep pace with inflation.  
Joining today's strike in cities across the north, primarily in Lower Saxony and Bremen, were rubbish collectors, kindergarten teachers, bus drivers and others. Strikes are planned tomorrow in Bavaria, Hesse and Baden-Wuerttemberg, and on Wednesday in North Rhine-Westphalia to increase pressure ahead of the next round of pay talks scheduled for March 28 and 29. 

16 Mar 2012

Tribunal rules TUPE can cover change of garage

A tribunal has ruled that a change of work location (in this case bus garages) under TUPE transfer can give rise to automatic unfair dismissal. In its decision, the Employment Appeal Tribunal said that five bus drivers who were transferred to a depot that would require up to two hours' extra travel each day could claim they were dismissed unfairly under rules designed to protect workers when their contracts are transferred to another employer.  
The drivers resigned when their employment with CentreWest, which operated the 414 bus route from its depot in the Westbourne Park area of London, was transferred to Abellio, which intended to run the service from its existing depot in Battersea. This resulted in between one and two additional hours extra travelling per day for each of the affected employees.  

The rights of employees are protected under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) when their company is taken over by a new owner or the work that they provide is outsourced, brought back in house or there is a change of service provider. 
Under TUPE employees may treat an employment contract as terminated when a transfer which is caught by the regulations results in a "substantial change in working conditions" to their "material detriment".
The regulations recognise that in some cases a clause in an employment contract cannot be implemented after the transfer with "precisely the same benefits and obligations" as they had previously, Mr Justice Langstaff said. However, in those cases "equivalent" benefits and obligations can be substituted "so long as neither the benefit nor burden is increased".  

Westbourne Park
The judge said that the Westbourne Park depot suited the "particular family circumstances" of the affected employees. Although the six mile move might not have appeared substantial in a more rural or suburban setting, "bearing in mind the travel conditions involved" it amounted to a substantial change. With regards to the second limb of the test, it could be shown that the change was to the employees' detriment "simply by asking whether the change was to the employee's advantage, to which the response would have to be plainly not". "[T]ravelling at varying hours of the day, often at inconvenient times of morning or night on shift work, when public transport may not be easy... is entirely appropriate to be regarded as a significant and material change to the detriment of the employee," he said.

15 Mar 2012

Stagecoach goes for FirstGroup North Devon

Stagecoach is hoping to buy FirstGroup's North Devon bus operations. The deal, which is still subject to clearance by the Office of Fair Trading, is worth £2.8m.
Stagecoach would buy around 30 vehicles which operate on ten routes in North Devon. They would also take on around 100 employees at a small depot in Barnstaple. This would add to Stagecoach's current depot in the town which operates 48 vehicles and employs 120 staff.
The new operations would be integrated into Stagecoach South West, a division which already employs around 900 people and operates 320 buses on 120 routes across Devon and Somerset.
The deal comes just a few weeks after attempts to sell FirstGroup's London bus operations to Stagecoach fell apart - because they couldn't agree on a price.

12 Mar 2012

Arizona strikers take on Veolia

Phoenix, Arizona
The full impact of a strike by about 900 bus drivers in Phoenix and nearby Tempe will be felt during today's commute. The drivers began their strike against Veolia Transportation on Saturday in a dispute over wages and benefits. The two sides have been negotiating for nearly two years but could not reach a deal.  
Associated Press

9 Mar 2012

Arriva seen off by passenger revolt

Arriva has pulled out of taking over a disputed service to a Northumberland village, the Gazette can reveal. The move comes after disgruntled residents racked up more than 1,000 names on a petition against a change to their route operator. 
Arriva North East, which was due to take over Shilbottle’s 472 service from April 1, has decided not to go ahead with the contract. In January, we reported that residents and the parish council were up in arms about the company taking over the 472 service, which has been run by Travelsure for the last 12 months.  
The service was previously run by Arriva but when it withdrew Travelsure, based in Seahouses, took over the contract for a year. However, a tender was then put out with Arriva winning back the service. 
Parish councillor Elisabeth Haddow praised Travelsure for how they had run the service and criticised the poor service they had received from Arriva North East. There were also concerns from Travelsure who felt that, as a small company, they were at a disadvantage over the procurement process. But Arriva North East has now confirmed it will not be running the service from next month.

Go-Ahead acquires Colchester bus group

Essex-based Hedingham Omnibuses has been acquired for an undisclosed sum by national train and bus operator Go-Ahead. Hedingham operates a fleet of 80 vehicles across north Essex and into Suffolk, plus a number of school services. 
It is based in Colchester and has depots in Clacton, Harwich, Kelvedon and Tollesbury, with other towns served by its routes included Bury St Edmunds, Haverhill, Halstead, Braintree, Witham and Chelmsford. 
Go-Ahead is one of Britain's largest bus operators with a fleet of around 3,900 vehicles. It also owns stakes in the Southern, Southeastern and London Midland train franchises.

8 Mar 2012

Germany: bus workers join public sector strike

Thousands of German public sector workers in three western states walked out on strike on Monday after demands for wage increases of 6.5 percent were blocked in talks. Buses and trains were at a standstill in Frankfurt, causing travel disruption in Germany's financial capital. 
In Saarland, hundreds of daycare centres and banks were shut, while hospitals and nursing homes were also affected. Employers dismissed the demands as unrealistic in pay negotiations, but did not produce an alternative offer. The discussions are set to resume on March 12.

5 Mar 2012

Unite leader threatens strikes during Olympics

Workers should consider using strike action to disrupt the Olympics as part of their campaign against the government's spending cuts, the leader of Unite has declared.
In an interview with the Guardian, Len McCluskey said attacks on public sector workers were "so deep and ideological" that targeting the Games would be justified. The call came as the RMT union increased the pressure on Boris Johnson by declaring a formal dispute after rejecting an Olympics pay deal for London Underground staff.
"If the Olympics provide us with an opportunity, then that's exactly one that we should be looking at," said McCluskey. He also said that any attempt by ministers to tighten anti-strike legislation would lead to unions deliberately breaking the law. 

He added: "The attacks that are being launched on public sector workers at the moment are so deep and ideological that the idea the world should arrive in London and have these wonderful Olympic Games as though everything is nice and rosy in the garden is unthinkable.
"Our very way of life is being attacked. By then this crazy health and social care bill may have been passed, so we are looking at the privatisation of our National Health Service. I believe the unions, and the general community, have got every right to be out protesting."

McCluskey was speaking in general terms and he admitted Unite did not at this stage have specific plans for action during the Olympics. But he said his union represented London's 28,000 bus drivers and staff, who are involved in their own row about extra payments during the Olympics. The bus workers want £500 in supplementary pay for the Games, in line with deals at Network Rail, Virgin Trains and London Overground. "They will be examining what leverage points we have, and the Olympics will clearly come into play," he said.


Egypt: trade unionists assaulted as strikes escalate

The leaders of the independent union for public transport workers which represents tens of thousands of bus workers in Cairo were ambushed and seriously injured at the headquarters of the Public Transport Authority (PTA) on 29 February.
Knife-wielding thugs from the old state-controlled Land Transport Union set on them as they arrived to present bus workers’ demands to Mona Moustafa, head of the PTA. Adel al-Shazly (union president), Mohammed Abd-al-Sattar (union treasurer) and Tareq Mohammed al-Sayyid (union spokesman) were among those badly injured.

The independent union led several strikes in 2011, including a major dispute in September, demanding improvements in pay and conditions, an end to corruption in the PTA, and investment in the bus fleet to improve the service. The union has recently organised a number of big protests outside the PTA and is preparing for strike action if its demands are not met.
The assault comes at a time when strikes by bus workers have been spreading across Egypt. Hundreds of drivers from the West and Central Delta bus company in Alexandria have been on strike since 20 February, demanding the re-nationalisation of the company and its removal from the semi-privatised Holding Company for Land and Maritime Transport. The director of the Holding Company is retired General Mohammed Youssef, who has been accused of stealing company funds and backdoor deals to sell off company property. The workers are also demanding pay rises and better conditions.

Upper Egypt
Meanwhile bus workers in the Upper Egypt Company for Travel and Tourism based along the Red Sea coast entered their tenth day of strike action on 3 March. Like the West Delta workers they are demanding to be brought back directly under the authority of the Ministry of Transport, as well as wage rises and investment in the bus fleet.
Send a message of support to the bus workers via menasolidarity@gmail.com