28 Feb 2013

Singapore jails drivers for inciting strikes

Four bus drivers have been jailed for up to seven weeks for organising Singapore's first strike in 26 years. The two-day strike last November involved Chinese drivers at the state-controlled SMRT transport company. They were protesting about pay and conditions.
Gao Yue Qiang, Liu Xiangying and Wang Xianjie each received six weeks in jail for conspiring to launch a strike, while He Jun Ling, 32, received an additional week for posting a comment on social media encouraging others to take part. The Straits Times said the four men, all of whom worked at SMRT, had pleaded guilty.

Deterrent sentences
Judge See Kee Oon said the strike had had the potential to "severely affect the daily lives of all commuters" and that the sentence had to be "of sufficient duration to signal its deterrent intent". Singapore has already jailed one bus driver for six weeks and deported 29 others over the incident.
The maximum sentence for illegal striking in Singapore is a year in jail and a fine of 2,000 Singapore dollars (£1,000).
The strike, which was joined by more than 100 drivers who had been recruited from China, drew attention to Singapore's policies on foreign, low-skilled labour. The drivers were protesting about the salaries, which they said were lower than those of drivers from other countries, and about the standard of their accommodation, provided by SMRT. The company denied discrimination, and said the difference in wages was because the Chinese workers were given accommodation.

Isle of Man: drivers to strike on 6 March

Isle of Man bus drivers have voted for further strike action in a long-running dispute with the island's government over measures which include a £3,000 pay cut. The Bus Vannin drivers will stage two separate walkouts on Wednesday 6 March, the Unite union confirmed. A spokesman said drivers would hold stoppages from 7.30-9:30am and from 3-5pm.
The decision was taken following a meeting between union leaders and drivers on Monday. Unite's Bobby Moreton said drivers voted "unanimously in favour of escalating their industrial action". He added: "We are unwilling to accept that the government can impose a £60 per week loss on our people just on rates of pay - that's before they take away sick and holiday pay." The drivers have already staged walkouts in December, January and February.

19 Feb 2013

Analysis: How British operators are leading the attack on bus workers in the States

The following is part of a longer article on the recent strike by school bus drivers in New York City:
In the school bus industry, [privatization] proceeded at a somewhat slower pace [than the rest of the transport industry]. Many school boards and local governments still operate their own school buses to this day. However, privatization has accelerated rapidly since the onset of the economic crisis five years ago. Budget crises at the state and local levels have been used to transfer busing into the hands of for-profit operators. Across the country approximately 35 percent of school bus routes are now operated by the private sector.

Unpaid overtime
In New York City, competitive bidding has resulted in dozens of bus companies scrambling to offer service at the lowest price. Currently some 45 companies hold school bus contracts in New York City. While the Employee Protection Provisions (EPP) affords drivers and attendants a minimum level of job security, wages themselves have been held low. Companies find other ways to extract cost savings. Workers say they are often compelled to work overtime without additional pay and must shoulder the burden themselves of tolls and violations outside of their control.
By attempting to remove the EPP contract requirements, New York City is opening itself up to larger companies who have thus far refrained from bidding on account of relatively higher labor costs. Cornering the New York City market—and its $1 billion plus yearly student transportation payments—would mean a windfall in profits for any such company.
First Student, Inc., the largest school bus company in the US, reportedly offered up a bid for the first time. The company, three times the size of its nearest competitor, has grown rapidly since 1999 through mergers and acquisitions.

Its parent company, UK-based FirstGroup, originated from the deregulation of the UK municipal bus operations in the 1980s. The company, which also owns Greyhound, entered the US student transportation market in 1999 with the acquisition of Ryder Student Transportation and expanded much further with the $3.6 billion takeover of Laidlaw in 2007. Today it operates in 42 states, transporting nearly a quarter of the 26 million students who take school buses each day.
Key to First Student’s success has been attacking the working conditions of its drivers, pushing low wages, bare-bones health insurance coverage, and no guaranteed hours. A number of labor skirmishes with First Student have erupted recently, including in New Haven, Connecticut and Portland, Oregon. New Haven drivers walked off the job in September of last year protesting poverty level wages. Also last year, a federal judge ruled against First Student for unfair labor practices and refusing to bargain in good faith, awarding Portland drivers two years of back pay.

Part-time conditions
First Student dominates the New York City suburbs on Long Island. Its workers there are little more than casual employees, guaranteed only six hours a day, with little or no benefits. These miserable part-time conditions are overseen by ATU Local 1181, which bargains for drivers.
Like the airline and trucking industry, the student transportation business is consolidating in the hands of a few major monopolies with far larger resources and geographic reach. After decades in which workers suffered the devastating impact of bankruptcies, mergers and acquisitions, and the loss of their jobs and pensions, a few major players are now in position to reap vast profits based on a sharp reduction in labor costs overseen by the unions themselves.

National Express
In addition to First Student, other conglomerates that dominate the US market include Durham School Services [a subsidiary of the UK-based National Express Group] that is actively preparing to bring in replacement drivers in the event of a strike in two South Carolina counties. School bus workers in that state start at $10.50 an hour.
The third largest is Student Transportation Inc., based in New Jersey, which dominates many rural and suburban areas. The biggest in New York City, Staten Island-based Atlantic Express Transportation Group, is owned by hedge fund Greenwich Street Capital and had revenues of $440 million last year. All of the companies anticipate that further acquisitions and privatization will promise large profits for years to come.

12 Feb 2013

Isle of Man: drivers reject latest offer

Bus drivers in the Isle of Man have voted against a deal which the Manx government had hoped would rule out plans for more industrial action. Bus Vannin drivers took industrial action in December and January over new measures including a £3,000 pay cut.
In a secret ballot yesterday, 56 of 79 voters rejected the new deal, the terms of which have not been made public. Eric Holmes from the Unite union said a decision on whether or not there will be further strike action will be made at a members meeting.

Wilts and Dorset vote 70% for strikes

Drivers in the South West of England have voted for strikes after managers warned their jobs were at risk unless they accepted severe cuts to their working conditions. The ballot of 500 workers showed 70% in favour of strikes with an even bigger majority voting for other forms of action.
RMT members at Wilts and Dorset buses, a subsidiary of Go-Ahead, are angry after managers enforced changes to their shifts, changed sign-on and sign-off times and imposed unpaid meal breaks – all meaning staff would work longer for less. The company is also threatening that routes could be terminated and the company could pull out all together if staff don’t bend the knee and accept severe cuts to their working conditions.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “ The last accounts for the company show that pre-tax profits increased by 44% to £9.447m – money earned off the back of the workforce – but even that isn’t enough for this crowd as they look to turn the screw with an assault on working conditions that would see staff running round like serfs with barely a minute for a breather." Strike dates have not been named yet.