Friday, 22 June 2012

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the monies conditionally promised (that they'd be disbursed if there wasn't a strike) by Mr Johnson are now most likely withdrawn, so we're back to square one.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.

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