London commuters should be braced for potential major travel disruption this autumn, Unite has warned.
Ballot in hand
The union is in the process of preparing to formally ballot all its bus drivers employed by Singapore-owned Metroline in a dispute over ‘remote signing on’, which Unite describes as a huge `experiment with the capital's vital transport system' and designed for profits not passengers.
Affected workers have described the proposals as a massive ‘slap in the face’ to a group of workers which is still recovering from the pandemic where 29 drivers died and many more are still unable to return to work due to the debilitating effects of the illness.
They also warn of potential chaos for passengers, many of whom rely on the capital's buses to get them to work or school, as drivers are forced to criss-cross the city to collect the bus for their routes.
Unite represents in excess of 4,000 drivers at the company, which dominates routes in the north and the west of the capital and accounts for around 16 per cent of all of London’s bus drivers.
By introducing remote signing on drivers would not report to a depot but would meet their bus and begin work at a location such as a bus stop.
Remote sign-on problems
Unite is opposed to remote sign-on for the following reasons:
- 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.
In a consultative ballot at both Metroline companies, Unite members recorded a 99.2 per cent vote in favour of industrial action at Metroline West and 97.8 per cent at Metroline Travel.
Unite is now in the process of organising a full industrial action ballot and if a settlement isn’t reached strikes could begin this autumn.
Slap in the face
Unite Regional Officer, Mary Summers, said: “This is a massive slap in the face to drivers who bore the brunt of COVID, losing friends and colleagues, suffering illness themselves, while keeping London moving.
“Remote sign-on is all about boosting profits to the detriment of bus drivers health and welfare, as well as the safety of and service to passengers.
“This is just a huge profits-driven experiment with the capital's vital transport system. It is a mean-spirited, penny-pinching measure.
"There are also huge safety questions as no one will have checked if a driver is fit to drive, potentially putting at risk up to 100 passengers at any time.
"There is no way this plan is at all in the interests of the capital's passengers. The people who use buses rely on them to get to work or school. They need a service that they can absolutely rely on, not one where the drivers are crisscrossing the capital to collect their vehicles.
“Our members are furious about these plans and Metroline should understand that workers will not hesitate to take industrial action to defend their working conditions.
“Unite urges Metroline to drop these dangerous and ill-thought-out proposals”.