28 Sep 2012

Aberdeen drivers demand a share of megaprofits

It's not just in Wales where workers employed First Bus are fighting back. About 400 union members in Aberdeen are to be balloted on industrial action over pay, after a consultative ballot made clear that an overwhelming majority thought the pay rise on offer was insulting (The vote was 209 to 19). If a strike goes ahead it is likely to take place in the run up to Christmas.
First was offering a measly 1.5% pay rise, despite seeing pre-tax profits jump from £126m to £280m in the year to 31 March. The official (some would argue fictitious) inflation rate currently stands at 2.9% - so anything below that is clearly a pay cut.
Talks took place today between management and union officials in an attempt to settle the dispute. However, no agreement was reached. Unite’s regional rep Tommy Campbell said: "The company is being mean yet again by not sharing out some of the millions of pound of profits they have made to the workers that help create that profit."

Wales: strike goes ahead after drivers reject offer recommended by union

First Cymru drivers and engineers will strike in South and West Wales on Monday after rejecting the company's latest pay offer. Union leaders met with managers at the firm's Ravenhill headquarters for crunch talks on Tuesday this week to try and avert a strike. The 'improved' pay deal of a 1 percent increase from January this year and 2.5 percent increase from January next year was put to drivers and engineers last night.

But union members rejected the deal and will go ahead with the 24-hour strike on Monday from 4am. Unite rep Gareth Jones said that Unite had recommended the latest offer, but understood the frustration of the workers and pledged support from the union for the impending industrial action.

He said: "This is a serious step for them to take... The recommendation came from senior shop stewards. Our members have decided not to follow that recommendation which is their right to do so.
"We understand why they have rejected that... It is not a great offer but we felt it was the best that could be achieved through negotiations."
The strike will effect many routes. First serves Bridgend, Maesteg, Port Talbot, Neath, Swansea, Llanelli, Carmarthen and south Pembrokeshire, including Haverfordwest. It also runs Excel services and the Swansea to Cardiff Greyhound coach service.

Aberdeen drivers up for a fight

Drivers at First Bus in Aberdeen have voted for a formal ballot on industrial action. The consultative ballot saw an overwhelming majority in favour, with 209 for and 19 against.  More details to follow.

24 Sep 2012

Belgium: wildcat strike over safety

Brussels, Belgium
Last Tuesday a wildcat strike broke out at the Anderlecht depot. The drivers were protesting at inadequate safety measures after an increase of violent incidents on their buses. An incident on Saturday evening provoked the strike, when a driver in trouble requested assistance from the bus company, but received none. The management have since acknowledged this was a mistake. Fifteen routes were effected by the action.

21 Sep 2012

Egypt: strike leaders arrested

Striking public transport workers in Cairo vowed to escalate their strike action after the president of their independent union, Tareq al-Beheiry and several colleagues were arrested on charges of ‘incitement to strike’. The workers are fighting for the return of the Public Transport Authority to Ministry of Transport control from the Governorate of Cairo, increases in pay and bonuses. The strike takes up demands raised in previous strikes, which the government has failed to meet.
Meanwhile a senior official from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party attacked the strikers. “When workers of a vital service such as public transport decide to stop working, this is treason to the country,” he told Ahram Online on Monday.
What you can do:
  • Write a letter of protest to the Egyptian embassy in your country calling for the immediate release of Tareq el-Beheiry and his colleagues
  • Send messages of support to the PTA strikers using this solidarity toolkit 

17 Sep 2012

India: indefinite strike ends with victory

Karnataka State, South West India
The indefinite strike by 110,000 bus workers in Bangalore and the surrounding region has ended with a swift victory after just 48 hours. The state government accepted most of their demands after talks that ended late on Friday. 
The unions’ main demand of merging the Variable Dearness Allowance (VDA) with the basic salary had been accepted. It was also agreed that transfers effected on administrative grounds from March 2012 and show-cause notices issued to trainee employees since Thursday would be withdrawn. 
However, the other main demand — that of absorbing as regular staff the thousands of trainee crew — has not been settled. But as a sop, they will be paid an additional Rs. 1,000 per month from September, increasing their pay to Rs. 8,000 a month. And their 'training period' will not be extended beyond two years. The other demands of the unions will be considered by a subcommittee.

Isle of Man: bosses try to steal drivers' lunch

On Friday drivers will be asked to vote on whether or not they will accept the loss of their paid lunch break. The Department of Community, Culture and Leisure says it needs to do away with the payment in order to save an urgent £300,000. But drivers say this could cost them in the region of £3,500 to £4,000 a year, equivalent to a 12 per cent pay cut. They say when the paid lunch break was introduced, they lost other areas of their pay and these would not be reinstated with the loss of paid lunch. 
Eric Holmes of Unite said the payment should actually be referred to as a ‘shift disturbance allowance’ rather than a paid lunch break because over the years this right had been eroded and drivers had become unrecognised shift workers.
Last month Mr Holmes said a letter sent by Community, Culture and Leisure Minister Graham Cregeen to bus drivers could be used as evidence in an unfair dismissal tribunal. He said the letter was ‘very contentious and threatening’. Drivers believe the letter, which refers to negotiations over their contract, tells them their jobs are in jeopardy if they don’t sign up to new working conditions, including the loss of their paid lunch hour.

16 Sep 2012

Cairo's transport workers strike for reforms

Egypt saw a fresh wave of strikes on today as workers in the transport and education sectors downed tools to push for financial and administrative reform. In separate bouts of industrial action, workers at the Cairo Transportation Authority (CTA) and non-academic staff at universities across Egypt walked off the job.
Bus services ground to a halt at five garages in the capital while 22 others began partial strikes in an attempt to force the CTA to be attached to Egypt's Ministry of Transport – a move, workers say, that will boost their salaries and bonuses. Workers made the same demand during strikes in mid-2011, reaching a compromise agreement with CTA management. That, evidently, has not been enough.
"It is still the same. We want to be attached to the ministry of transportation to enjoy the public sector's pay raises," Ali Fatouh, a leader of the workers independent syndicate at the Cairo Transportation Authority (CTA) told Ahram Online. CTA workers have not received a 200 per cent pay increase granted to state workers last year, Fatouh claimed. Instead they have had a monthly LE200 rise.
Fatouh also complained that the government was ignoring their demands. "Nobody from the government contacted us. This is starting to look like Ahmed Nazif's government," he added, referring to a much-maligned prime minister from the Hosni Mubarak era.

13 Sep 2012

India: 110,000 bus workers on indefinite strike

Karnataka State, South West India
An indefinite strike by around 110,000 employees of Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation and Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation began today. The bus workers, belonging to five different unions, are striking over pay, over proper consultation with union members, and over the regularisation of around 33,000 trainees. 
The impact of the strike has shaken the authorities. It has taken over 14,000 buses off the road. The government are now threatening to invoke the anti-union Essential Services Maintenance Act to try and break the strike.

Palestine: transport workers strike together

Some 2,000 Palestinians angry at the rising cost of living flooded the streets of Hebron on Monday, as a general strike halted public transport across the West Bank. Clouds of black smoke poured into the air across the Israeli-occupied territory as furious demonstrators set light to tyres, kicking off a second week of protests against the spiralling cost of living, high petrol prices and unemployment.
The demonstrators took to the streets in the early morning, blocking main roads with boulders and burning tyres. Later they threw stones at cars, the municipal building, the Palestinian police and Israeli troops.Public transport was at a complete halt throughout the West Bank as union leaders called a mass strike over the rising cost of petrol which has risen from six to eight shekels per litre in the past two months. 
With no buses, minibuses or taxis in operation, the streets were empty, and private cars were also barred from entering towns and cities by makeshift roadblocks. At the Qalandia crossing between Ramallah and Jerusalem, small groups of bus and taxi drivers were on the lookout for any strike breakers.

Some of the wider context:

There have been increasing numbers of demonstrations across the West Bank in recent months. On Saturday refugee camps in the Ramallah area protested against the rocketing cost of living. Last month public sector workers received only half their salaries, and this month they have been told their pay will be staggered into two payments. This is creating huge discontent. 
Two elements are fuelling the protests. There is the fact that prime minister Salam Fayyad has tried to tie the Palestinian economy to that of Israel—with disastrous results for the Palestinian poor. Fayed was previously a financier with the International Monetary Fund and is committed to pursuing a neoliberal economic strategy on the Occupied Territories. 
But there is also the Arab Spring, which has deeply affected the Palestinians. The latest popular protests reflect a significant working class response to the combined pressures of austerity and occupation—and open up a potentially exciting new phase in the Palestinian struggle.