29 Nov 2012

Arriva London North strike: drivers speak out

Over 40 striking bus workers picketed Stamford Hill bus garage in north London today (Thursday). The Unite union members have not had a pay rise in two years and want a 2.5 percent wage increase  The strike is not just about money but also against bullying bosses. One driver told Socialist Worker, “If you even forget to sign your check sheet or touch your mirror against something, you get a caution. If you get three cautions in two years, they sack you.” 

'We're never at ease'
Another driver added, “Everything is made out to be our fault. If there’s an accident, even if the police say the driver was not at fault we still get punished. “We’re never at ease. We work with fear at the back of our minds. We need to strike until they give us something acceptable.”  

One driver pointed out that it takes seven years to be paid the experienced driver rate, adding “I’ve been driving for eight years and I earned more then than I do now. “We’re taking a stand, but there’s no point in doing it just once—we’ll have to strike again.”  
The 24 hour strike by bus workers affects Arriva garages across north London. It was sparked by a decision by Arriva to refuse workers a pay rise this year—despite bumper profits.

Video: Arriva striker puts their case

28 Nov 2012

Analysis of Singapore bus strike

From Reuters
This week's walkout in Singapore by dozens of mainland Chinese bus drivers over disparities in pay would have been considered small, calm and short-lived in almost any other nation. But the strike, in breach of the law and mostly over by Wednesday, was the first significant industrial action in the tightly regulated Asian financial centre in more than 25 years.
For the first two days of this week, buses ran late and crowded in a city that prides itself on efficiency, leading to complaints from customers. After a tough election last year, the strike highlights challenges for the long-ruling government of the majority ethnic Chinese island as it tries to defuse anger over an influx of immigrants while discouraging labour unrest that could hurt investment.

Migrant workers strike back
The action by the drivers from China, over complaints they are paid less than Singaporean and Malaysian peers, also underlines the treatment of lower-skilled foreign workers who are vital to the construction, hospitality and transport sectors in the wealthy city-state.
"There's a danger in becoming too emotional about it," said Bank of America Merrill Lynch economist Chua Hak Bin. "Not many Singaporeans want to work as bus drivers at this kind of wage levels. You need foreign workers to fill the gap." Chua said companies would have to get used to higher wage demands by lower-skilled foreign workers, given the much larger salary increases in countries such as China.
In the case of SMRT Corp Ltd, one of two bus companies that operate in Singapore, Chinese nationals account for about 450 of the 2,000 or so drivers on its payroll. Kit Wei Zheng, an economist at Citigroup, said more labour disputes could emerge given developments in the region. "Globally and regionally, there is greater labour activism taking place," he said. "In China, you have seen more assertive industrial action so, in hindsight, it was not surprising that some of these pressures reached Singapore's shores."

An island of millionaires
As a global financial centre with the world's highest concentration of millionaires, Singapore is awash with flashy cars, pricey shops and fancy restaurants that epitomise the wealth of foreign and domestic businesspeople and bankers. But much of the vitriol against immigrants - about stealing jobs, pushing up housing costs and crowding public transport - is directed at the most visible, those who do the tough and dirty work and are among the lowest paid.
Singapore, which saw its last major industrial action in 1986 at an American oilfield equipment firm, has no minimum wage and prohibits workers in public transport and other essential services from going on strike without giving notice of 14 days. In taking action that Tan, the acting manpower minister, said "clearly crossed the line", 171 Chinese drivers did not show up for work on Monday and 88 did not report on Tuesday.

Chinese embassy intervenes to end strike
Most of them returned to duty on Wednesday after officials from the Chinese embassy spoke with them late on Tuesday. Tan said his ministry expected SMRT, controlled by powerful state investor Temasek Holdings Pte Ltd, to address the grievances but that the government had "zero tolerance for such unlawful action".
The National Trades Union Congress, which does not represent the Chinese drivers, said "any action that is illegal must and will be dealt with firmly, regardless of whether the workers are local or foreign".

An attack on pay
The drivers complain SMRT switched them to a six-day week with slightly higher pay from a five-day week that had allowed them to earn more by doing overtime. One driver told the Lianhe Wanbao newspaper he now was paid S$1,400 a month, lower than the S$2,000 he used to be able to make with overtime on days off. The Chinese are also angry about getting less than Singaporean and Malaysian drivers.
Bus drivers, whether Chinese or Singaporean, are not highly paid in a country where the 2011 median monthly salary was about S$3,250 for citizens and permanent residents. Foreign maids and nannies - most of them from Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar - do even worse, getting as little as S$500 a month.

Strike at Arriva London North over low pay

Thousands of bus workers in North London are due to strike tomorrow against poverty pay and attacks on terms and conditions. Strike action had initially been suspended for negotiations. But while management may have backed off from imposing changes on conditions they have refused to concede a pay rise and are once again asking workers to accept a “lump sum” payment.
Unite say that if the situation doesn’t change by 2013 then Arriva London North workers will have received no pay rise in 3 out of the 5 years from 2008, and been given 2 percent (less than inflation) twice. All this has been done in the name of keeping the company “competitive”. That’s what workers are being told across the bus industry and across Britain in general. Bosses and the government are telling us these are tough times and we all have to tighten our belts.

But its workers who get all the pain while the shareholders keep raking in the profits. In the first half of 2012 Arriva’s parent company, Deutsche Bahn, had operating profits of £1 billion. So maybe they can afford a few quid for a decent pay rise!
Despite negotiations and the union allowing a “cooling off period” the employers haven’t moved on a pay increase. Well, now is the time to make them move.Bus operators always insist right up to the last moment they can’t move on pay – and then they suddenly ‘find’ extra money down the back of the sofa – if workers apply enough pressure.

Olympic bonus
Remember that during the lead up to strikes over the London Olympic bonus earlier this year the bus operators, Transport for London and Boris Johnson all said the money wasn’t there. But once the strikes started they soon changed their minds. The action was so successful that many drivers believed a lot more could have been won.
Arriva London North workers do have the power to win this fight. But to make that happen, the union has to be prepared to escalate the strike action if the employers don’t shift.

27 Nov 2012

Singapore: first strike in 26 years continues

About 60 bus drivers in Singapore stayed off work today, the second day of a stoppage in the island. State transport firm SMRT said that of the 102 who refused to work yesterday over a pay dispute, 60 did not turn up today despite an agreement.
The drivers, all from mainland China, refused to board a shuttle bus from their dormitory to a nearby depot. One of them, who declined to be named, said they felt aggrieved over a disparity in pay between Chinese and Malaysian drivers.
SMRT is 54 percent owned by state investment firm Temasek Holdings. Singapore has been hiring bus drivers from China and Malaysia because of a chronic shortage of manpower. Strikes and other forms of industrial action are rare in Singapore. The labor movement works closely with the government and private business. According to local media, the last strike in Singapore was in 1986!

26 Nov 2012

Singapore: Riot police called in to control strike

Riot police were called in to control a strike by some 102 bus drivers earlier today. The workers from SMRT Corporation did not picket, but staged the strike at their dormitory in Woodlands instead. According to Chinese newspaper Shin Min Daily News, the drivers, who are all Chinese nationals, were unhappy about perceived discrimination in a recent pay raise. Malaysian drivers at the company reportedly got a $275 increment and a month's bonus, while Chinese nationals were only paid $75 extra without any bonus.

Isle of Man: strike ballot begins

Some 100 Bus Vannin drivers are voting on whether to strike over increased driving time and the reduction of contractual hours from 42 to 37. The ballot will run from 28 November to 12 December. It’s the latest move in a dispute over changes to their terms and conditions which Unite says will cut drivers’ wages by about £3,000 a year.
Notices of termination of their existing contracts were issued to drivers on October 13. Since then, about a third have agreed to new terms and conditions which include an end to paid lunch breaks.

19 Nov 2012

First Aberdeen workers reject pay offer

The possibility of a Christmas bus strike in Aberdeen increased after workers rejected a revised pay offer from their employers last Thursday. The offer, details of which have not been made public, followed two days of talks with the conciliation service, ACAS. The long-running dispute involves drivers and cleaners, who are members of the Unite union. Around 400 workers are involved in the pay negotiations.

16 Nov 2012

First Devon and Cornwall hit again by strike action

Drivers at First Devon and Cornwall struck again on Thursday. The action by RMT members was over low pay, and follows a similar strike on 26 October. First had offered drivers a 1 per cent rise this year and a proposed 2.7 per cent hike next year in a deal which also tore up existing terms and conditions on sick pay and overtime.
Workers rejected that, and then rejected a revised offer which included a more generous price rise, claiming the company had deliberately dragged out negotiations so it could sidestep shelling out back pay.
General secretary Bob Crow said: "Yet again there's been rock solid support for the action... The company needs to understand the anger of our members over the penny-pinching approach they have taken. They need to get back round the table with our members and sort out a fair deal that enables us to resolve this."

8 Nov 2012

Georgia: drivers join strike wave

Tbilisi, Georgia
Drivers of the capital’s buses have joined a wave of strikes that have rocked Georgia since the parliamentary election in October. They walked out this morning, with 1,300 drivers out across Tblisi's three garages. They have issued a declaration with 17 demands. The main ones are for better working conditions and increased salaries, but they also include payment for work they did during the war in August 2008, when the city's buses were deployed to transport soldiers. The drivers have said this is only a warning strike – if their demands aren’t met they will move on to a much larger scale protest.

Other strikes
Yesterday, different groups of metal workers and miners held a rally at the parliament building in Kutaisi in western Georgia, demanding amendments to the labour code, which doesn’t give any rights to workers, but gives rights to their bosses. Meanwhile workers at the energy company Telasi also went on strike. Their main demand was to fire the commercial director of the company, who has resigned. However workers claim that the former director’s team is still on their posts. Two days ago, miners in the coal town Tkibuli went on strike. About 1,200 workers at the Saknakhshiri mining company protested outside the administrative building demanding an pay increase of 60 percent and holidays on the days defined by the constitution.

Alongside this industrial action, Georgia has been hit by a wave of protests and direct action – including people sewing their mouths shut and going on hunger strike, refugees and socially vulnerable people breaking into empty buildings demanding to be given a place to live, and disorder in several prisons.

7 Nov 2012

Devon and Cornwall strike postponed

First Devon and Cornwall workers in the RMT suspended a planned strike this week following a revised offer from the company. The union is demanding a substantial pay increase with no strings attached – and that all drivers be paid the same rate of pay for doing the same job.