London bus drivers employed by Singapore-owned Metroline will be balloted next week for industrial action which could hit the capital's roads this autumn in a dispute over the company’s proposals to introduce a controversial remote sign on system.
Major London operator
Metroline operates in North and West London and around 16 per cent of all bus drivers in the capital work for the company.
Remote sign on means drivers do not report to a depot to start work but meet their bus and begin work at an alternative location such as a bus stop. Remote sign on forces drivers to start work away from the depot, reducing costs and boosting the company's profits.
No passenger benefit
Unite argues that there is no benefit to passengers, and in fact, remote sign on could well cause disruption to services used by the hundreds of thousands of people who use buses every day to get to work and school.
Anger about Metroline’s proposals was highlighted by a consultative ballot at both Metroline companies in the capital. Unite members at Metroline West recoded a 99.2 per cent yes vote, while the figure for Metroline Travel was 97.8 per cent.
Ballot papers will be sent from Friday 18 September and the ballot will close on Monday 26 October, with strikes across London in November should the members vote in favour of industrial action.
The workforce has described Metroline’s plans to introduce remote sign on as a ‘massive slap in the face’ for a group of workers who kept London moving during the height of the pandemic, despite the deaths of 29 London bus drivers and many others suffering serious illness after contracting the virus.
Although the dispute is primarily about remote sign on, there are also concerns about the lack of air conditioning, problems over the sealing of cabs and other health and safety worries.
Slap in the face
Unite Regional Officer, Mary Summers, said: “Metroline has failed to understand the anger among our members about its proposals to introduce remote sign on.
“This is a huge slap in the face to drivers who lost colleagues during the pandemic but who still in the spirit of public service continued to ensure key workers got to work.
"There is also absolutely no advantage to passengers in this system, and in fact, it builds in the potential for service disruption.
“Metroline is more interested in profits than passenger or driver safety.
“The company are experimenting with the safety of London’s transport network during a pandemic which is reckless in the extreme.
“If strike action does occur it will inevitably cause severe disruption for London commuters but this dispute is driven by Metroline’s desire to turbo-charge profits.
“Metroline need to see reason and drop these ill-thought-out and dangerous proposals.”
Unite is opposed to remote sign on for the following reasons:
- Safety: There will be no checks to ensure the driver is fit and well to drive a bus
- Lack of access to toilet facilities, rest and canteen facilities
- Drivers will be forced to wait for their bus to arrive in all weathers, potentially harming their health and ability to drive a bus over a long shift
- Greater risk of exposure to COVID-19 in travelling to a location which has not been subject to the risk assessment and health measures in place in a depot
- Increase the dangers and problems of fatigue as drivers will be subjected to far higher travelling time
- The lack of a back-up: If a driver is delayed or a bus is not operational, then at a depot there is always alternative options to provide passenger transport.