Bus drivers begin pay strike
Bus passengers across London will suffer travel chaos today because of a strike by thousands of drivers in a dispute over pay.
Up to 27,000 members of the Unite union at 18 companies throughout Greater London will walk out as part of a campaign for a single agreement covering pay and conditions.
The union said that in contrast to Tube drivers, there is no collective pay deal for bus drivers, with wages negotiated on a company-by-company basis.
There are more than 80 different pay rates covering drivers doing the same job, leading to differences in hourly rates of over £3, said Unite.
Transport for London (TfL) said the strike will affect services from around 4am today and hit night bus services operating tonight into tomorrow morning.
There are around 6.5 million bus journeys made every day in London, so the stoppage is expected to cause widespread disruption.
A survey of 1,600 bus passengers for Unite showed that two-thirds backed the drivers' campaign.
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?
"The bus operators need to stop pleading poverty in defending pay inequality and collectively start negotiating about a fairer deal for London's bus workers."
Leon Daniels, TfL's managing director of surface transport, said: "It is extremely disappointing that Unite has decided to go ahead with this unnecessary disruption, especially given the low turnout for the ballot and low numbers voting for the strike.
"Bus drivers' pay and conditions are a matter for the bus companies and Unite to discuss, as it has been for 20 years, and we continue to urge them to seek a swift and fair resolution for the sake of our passengers.
"The strike will mean that services across London will be patchy and I urge customers to please check our website for the latest news. We'll be getting up-to-date information to customers as quickly as possible to ensure that they can continue to get around the city."
A spokesman for Metroline, one of the bus companies involved, said: "We apologise to our passengers for the disruption caused by the strike.
"Only one in five of our drivers voted, with less than one in six voting for strike action. This is an unprecedented low level of support to strike and Unite's decision to pursue industrial action is unnecessary and extremely disappointing.
"Unite is seeking to move to a common rate of pay across all bus companies in London and we have challenged this on the grounds that it would be illegal for us to agree to their demand. We offer attractive and competitive rates of pay to our staff and remain open to discussions to resolve this."
Go-Ahead said 839 of its drivers out of an eligible workforce of 6,076 voted to strike.
Managing director John Trayner said: "The very low turnout reflects the fact that the vast majority of staff understand their employer is committed to them. People are at the heart of our business and I therefore urge Unite to call off this action. This is a dispute we cannot resolve.
"Strike action is inappropriate and unnecessary. It will ultimately inconvenience the six and a half million people who use the bus network every day and ensure union members lose pay."
Neil Carberry, CBI director for employment and skills, said: "It is disappointing this strike is going ahead on such a low turnout, causing disruption to many in and around London.
"Strikes should always be the result of a clear, positive decision by those balloted. That's why we've called for the introduction of a threshold to rebalance the interests of employers, employees, the public and the rights of trade unions."