Friday, 22 June 2012

ITN News: Fail, do not pass "Go", do not collect your bonus...

Independent Television News (ITN) really stuffed up their reporting of the bus strike, and reasons for it, this evening. It was really atrocious. You could almost have been forgiven for thinking that they were in the pay of the employers, the way they misreported the background and situation.

So, here it is again, for the hard of hearing (ITN, are you reading this?), in bullet-point format...

Please also read the previous Blant entry below, for the background and reasons for our asking for this £500 bonus.

  • For close to ten months, we've been asking the employers to come to the negotiating table. It took Boris ordering them there, to get them there. Even then, they did not even attempt to negotiate, either in good faith or bad. They attempted to dictate terms to us instead. How would YOU feel if your employer did that to you? "Peeved" is probably putting it mildly, I suspect.
  • We asked the employers to come to ACAS. Not the other way round. We've never done that before: This was a measure of how seriously we are taking this mess of the companies' creation.
  • Our union representatives at the conciliation service ACAS tried to agree an agenda for discussion, but the employers failed to budge on any single item. That's not negotiation on the part of the employers, that's dictation.
  • £30 million was not offered up at all at ACAS. The employers only offered the monies Boris freed up, this being the £8.3m or so from the Olympic Delivery Authority. They point blank refused to add any more to the pot (another six million or so would have made up the difference). The ODA monies would have resulted in a £350 payment, not the £500 we asked for.
  • Further, the employers wanted us to accept a per-hour rate, not the flat rate award that all other passenger transport workers in London are to be receiving. This would have left the majority of bus workers with less than even the £350 that the Mayor for London, Boris Johnson, offered up.
  • Boris has stated that "Hard Core Union Activists" wanted a strike. NOT so. The membership as a whole didn't want the strike, but we were left with no choice in the matter. A strike could not happen were it not for the vote that approved such action. This is required by law, before we can down tools. Again, ITN misreported the situation., painting a picture that we wanted a strike. Nothing could have been further from the truth: We were pushed into a corner, and we came out fighting, just as anyone else would.
  • In what we believe to be a highly questionable decision, three companies, London General, Arriva The Shires, and Metroline, were then granted an injunction at the High Court last night. Their staff were required to work as a result. This injunction is shortly to be challenged by Unite.
  • Several depots from other companies, using non-union drivers and managers, and a small handful of union members who disgracefully crossed picket lines to report to work, also ran buses on TfL routes. They were heavily over-boarded by passengers in many cases.

Regrettably, as just mentioned, at a handful of garages, some union members crossed picket lines. I'm not at all happy about that, as you can imagine: They let the rest of us down. In the old days of Closed Shops, they could have been expelled from a union for this offence under the rules; these days, with Closed Shops being outlawed by anti-union legislation over the years, and with membership of a Trade Union being considered by many to be a Human Right, we most likely won't wind up expelling those who crossed the picket lines, but they certainly didn't gain any friends by their disgracefully selfish and disloyal actions.

In summary then, the reporting by ITN was inaccurate, hurtful, plain wrong in many places, and shameful, and I for one won't trust a bloody thing ITN say from now on. By contrast, the BBC London News got everything spot on, and may I pass my thanks on to the BBC and in particular to their reporter, Mr Tom Edwards, for their timely, accurate, unbiased reporting: He's a credit to his profession, and kudos to the Beeb for doing it right.

I know that some of you are rather peeved at us...

...and for this, I apologise. We had nowhere else to go than a strike. Despite all the jokes and smiles about "YEAH! Stick it to the man" etcetera, we really and truly didn't want it. For a start, many of us will be loosing a days pay that we really and truly cannot afford to lose. But we had no other choice left to us.

We've been asking the companies for months to get around the table and talk this through. It took the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to get the Olympic Delivery Authority to free up some cash (not enough, sadly), and practically order the companies to get around tables at ACAS.

Even then, they wouldn't or couldn't agree a framework for the discussions, and the talks failed. So, the strike is on, and the monies conditionally promised (that they'd be disbursed if there wasn't a strike) by Mr Johnson are now most likely withdrawn, so we're back to square one. Again.

And yet, despite the companies saying that they're brassic, they somehow found the monies, in three cases, to hire expensive solicitors and barristers, and go to the High Court in London, and obtain an injunction preventing the Unite Union from allowing the strike to happen at these three companies - Arriva The Shires, Metroline, and London General. I call that blatant hypocracy of the highest order by the Companies concerned.

The union has commented publicly on the profits that these companies make; it's not unreasonable, given the bonuses that they pay their executives, to roll a little of this money to the staff in turn, surely?

And then there's the argument that only routes serving gaming sites of the Olympics will be affected. What utter rot and nonsense. Only a handful of the visitors attending the Games will be staying in hotels, guest houses, and B&Bs located in Central London or near the Gaming venues - there just isn't the capacity all that accommodation requirement in those areas.

So, they'll be all over the place within the M25 and surrounds. They'll invariably use buses to travel to the Gaming venues at some point in their trips to the Games, and so the usual numbers of passengers we serve will increase - TfL have themselves admitted that they expect an additional 800,000 trips to be made each day of the games, this over the usual six million or so workday trips that we service, making close to a 20 percent average increase in daily workday passenger numbers - this percentage increases when you think about weekend Olympic loadings, as compared to normal non-Games loadings.

Not many of these additional customers will speak or understand English, and many of them will not have a blessed clue as to how to get to where they're going. Having driven buses in Central London, I can hand on heart tell you that they'll treat the bus driver as an information point, thus causing more delays to the bus as the driver tries to assist them (where this is possible, language barriers not with standing). This in turn will undoubtedly cause stress and anger to regular passengers, and this in turn will be directed to the driver, causing him or her more stress in turn. It's a truly vicious circle, and I've seen similar situations all too often in the last close to ten years I've worked on the buses.

All of this, in addition to the increases in road traffic during the Games.

Yes, many people will actually heed the recommendation to leave their cars at home. But many won't. People are like that. Get over it. The point is, road traffic will increase, especially in the suburbs. People will drive in from the sticks to the suburbs, find a place to park (if not a proper car park, somewhere on a street, likely as not in the worst possible places), and thus road congestion will increase; as a result of these car trips, passenger loadings on these suburban routes will also increase, as these additional passengers make short or not-so-short trips to rail, tram, and tube stations - and other buses, of course. So the combination will really clog up the system and roads like you'll never have seen in living memory before.

And you think you're not going to be affected by all this? Really? Well, I'll allow that those who have the ability to get the hell out of Dodge will avoid all of the associated shenanigans, but the rest of us who live and work here won't have that luxury.

THIS is the very reason we've been asking the bus companies to rethink things, and sit down and talk to the union. They refused. They wouldn't even acknowledge the requests, in some cases. That's arrogance of a magnitude that I'd never even heard of before in industrial relations. Seriously, the rudeness and arrogance of it shocked the crap out of me.

Then, there were the bonus awards made to the other public transport systems here in London, the Tube, London Overground and other train operators, the DLR, and the Trams.

But not us poor saps on the buses, who have been given the shaft for so many years by successive governments and the companies alike.

This, then, was the straw that broke the camels' back.

So we were balloted by the union - twice - on this issue. Each vote was massively in favour of industrial actions leading up to and including strikes. We felt, and still do feel, this strongly on the matter.We had hoped that the Companies and TfL would heed the warnings supplied by the votes, and come to the table to talk like adults to our union representatives and negotiators.

They didn't. They stuck their fingers in their ears and started la-la-ing loudly instead, probably thinking that all these nasty unwashed bus drivers would bugger off, or something. Got a newsflash for you, guys. We didn't, and we're still here.

And this is the result of the Companies' arrogance. Strike action.

All we want is to be treated equally with our colleagues in other modes of passenger transport in London, whose employers have recognised that this will be a one-off occurrence, that demands the recognition that staff will face unprecedented stresses and strains during the Games. But sadly, it seems that this is not going to happen until the Companies and TfL get their collective heads on straight.

So, we're sorry it came to this. You, the travelling public, have been caught in the middle, and for this we are truly sorry. But we had no choice.

Normal service will resume on the buses tomorrow morning.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Bus strike: It's all about fair play and fair pay.

You'll have read in the news that London Bus Drivers who are members of the Unite union have voted overwhelmingly (at an average of well over 85%) for the first London-wide bus strike strike in over 30 - I think 50 has been mentioned here and there - years.

Well, it took the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, finally pulling some financial strings yesterday, and then telling the companies to pull their fingers out, but we've finally got the companies to sit around the table at ACAS today.

Negotiations are ongoing as I write this, and I have no idea what the outcome will be, but either way, we're finally making the companies sit up and take notice that we will NOT be treated like something you'd want to scrape of the sole of your shoe.

An excellent blog entry by adzmichael at "The ramblings of a 20 something" entitled 'In Support Of A Bus Strike', puts why we voted for the strike into excellent perspective, and I couldn't have done a better job - or even close to it - myself.

So, whether or not the strike goes ahead tomorrow, read his blog entry, and know WHY we voted for it in the first place.