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Thousands of London bus drivers strike for equal pay

Thousands of bus drivers have gone on strike today in London as part of a campaign for a single agreement governing pay and conditions across all of the capital’s bus companies.

Nine bus companies across Greater London have been affected, but TfL say 30% of busses are currently running as members of Unite, which represents more than 27,000 bus workers at 18 companies, seek a deal similar to that for Tube drivers.

There are over 80 different pay rates covering London’s bus drivers, doing the same job, even driving the same route but for different rates of pay, according to Unite. Bus workers have to negotiate pay on a company by company basis which the union says is causing “inequalities and disparities”.

Wayne King, London regional officer for Unite, said: “London’s bus operators have raked in millions in profits while driving down pay and refusing to tackle pay inequality on the capital’s buses.

“As bus company directors enjoy lottery style salaries, bus drivers doing the same job on the same route are being pitted against one another on different rates of pay.

“Strike action is the last resort. We’ve been forced into this position by the operators’ refusal to even meet with us. Passengers sitting side by side on the same route expect to pay the same fare, so why shouldn’t drivers expect to be paid the same rate?”

A survey of 1,645 London commuters also found support for the bus drivers, despite widespread disruption to the 6.5 million daily bus journeys caused by the strike. The survey, conducted by Mass 1 on behalf of Unite, found two thirds of London bus passengers think the capital’s bus drivers should be paid the same.

However, London mayor Boris Johnson told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “It is very, very sensible to have different pay rates across London. There are different working environments, different labour markets across the city.”

He also said the strike underlined the need for curbs on industrial action being pushed by the Conservatives.

PSE reported yesterday that the Tories have included in their manifesto plans to curb the ability to strike of workers who provide vital public services, including transport.

Under the plans industrial action in health, education, transport and fire services will only be possible with the support of at least 40% of all eligible union members.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said it was ‘only fair’ that the ‘rights of unions’ were balanced with the ‘rights of taxpayers’. “It is wrong that politicised union leaders can hold the country to ransom with demands that only a small percentage of their members voted for.”

If the new rules were to come in force today’s bus strike would not have been able to go ahead as turn out for the vote was only 19%.

The plans face strong opposition in the coalition as Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable dubbed them “a brutal attempt to strangle the basic rights of working people in this country”.

Len McCluskey, leader of Unite, also spoke out against the plans, he said: “Yet again, the Conservatives line themselves up behind big business and against working people.  

“This latest threat will hit workers enacting their fundamental right to stand up for fair wages, to save our public services and defend their jobs and pensions. 

“The way to resolve such disputes is through negotiations - not to intimidate and silence by legislation. The way to improve turnouts is to modernise balloting, something trade unions have repeatedly called for but been ignored by the Conservatives who are determined roll back the rights of working people.

“This speaks volumes about the sort of government we could expect from the Tories.  We already have the most backwards trade union laws in Europe yet they want to bounce us further to the dark ages.  In the year we commemorate the birth of our freedoms with the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the Tories want to place the UK in the same league as some of the most anti-democratic regimes on the planet.”

(Image source: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire)

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