- Tuesday, 26 June 2012
- Written by London bus worker
First of all, bus workers have been treated badly for a very very long time. We have always been on a low wage in comparison with other transport workers and skilled workers in general. When train lines are down for one reason or another, as they are most weekends, we take onboard the burden of all the extra passengers, with all the chaos and hard work that brings. But we never get any reward or recognition for that at all. And since this dispute has come out into the open, no one from TFL or anywhere else has bothered to approach the union for negotiation.
In addition to that, conditions in the garages have been deteriorating for about 4 years. Ever since the crisis in the economy started in 2008, they’ve used it as an excuse to not invest at all. They try and make ‘savings’ and cut corners everywhere they can, and to get away with it, they bully and attempt to trick the workers.
Some garages have better buses than others. In my garage, we’ve got dreadful buses. They’re too old and everyone knows it. Management has been telling workers who point this out that we’ve just got to ‘hang on in there’ till we get some new buses in a year or two. But the old buses, which never do get replaced, are so bad many of drivers have even gone so far as to hand in resignation notices or tried to get transfers elsewhere. When they do arrive they’re not new buses at all - they’re the same models as the ones we’ve got, only 1 or 2 years newer! And they try and tell us they’re new!
If we complain, we are threatened with penalisation and disciplinaries. By law we have to fill in ‘defect cards’ which are legal documents, so we cannot lie and cover up defects on buses, nor do we want to. Defective buses are a danger to the public and drivers. But they never take notice of the defect cards, and I’ve been threatened with disciplinary action for filling one in correctly. This is because there are no spare parts - the garages are empty, due to ‘savings’, and so they can’t repair them.
The lengths management go to to undermine the drivers when they point this out are unbelievable. If a disabled ramp is discovered to be broken on a bus, and the driver reports this, instead of fixing it, they’ll simply move that bus onto another route, so we think it’s being dealt with, and the drivers on the other route have to wait until they need to use the ramp to find out it’s defective. Then they’ll move that bus on again. So drivers have stopped filling in these legal documents, the defect cards, because they’re demoralised.
One time a few years ago the window of my cab fell out. When the engineer came to repair it, he didn’t have the right tools and couldn’t do it properly. So now that window constantly rattles and makes a horrible noise, and it gives the driver a headache when he or she is driving all day. If I come into work and see I’ve got that bus, I know my whole day is ruined.
If you report a bus as defective, it’s supposed to be taken in and the driver, engineering manager and others watch the entrances to the bus get sealed so that when it is tested, they know the bus is as it was when you reported it. When the brakes went on my bus and I reported it, the engineering manager didn’t want to get the blame for allowing faulty brakes on a bus, which he’d done to save money. After I complained he rang me up on my own mobile, which breaks procedure, to threaten me with disciplinary action. He had to do it over the mobile because what he was telling me - to not report it - was incriminatory. This way our conversation wasn’t recorded.
A colleague in the garage who knows him rang me later, after we’d sealed the bus, and told me the engineering manager was going to break the seals to the bus at night, making my complaint invalid. He knew the bus, which was his responsibility, would fail the test, and so needed to break the seals so that no one could know if the brakes had gone after or before I reported it. Lo and behold when the bus came to be tested the seals were broken, which was blamed on ‘the cleaners’.
In our garage a new system is coming in which has been with other garages for some time, where it is very unpopular. An electronic system will monitor drivers to see if they are braking or accelerating too sharply. It even monitors passengers’ movements to see if they’re moving around too much due to our driving. Not only is this draconian and an insult to hard working drivers, but it’s not even remotely fair because the buses are faulty and are not being repaired. ‘Bad’ driving is more often than not down to an ageing bus letting the driver down. Suspension won’t be fixed until it falls off.
One reason this is being brought in is to have an excuse to get rid of workers. After you’ve been with a company for 5 years you get higher wages and other kinds of bonuses. So they are now, in the last few years especially, trying very hard to get rid of drivers before they get to that point.
If the public knew the state of the buses they would not get on them. If they knew how we were treated they would definitely support our strike. We want to be recognised and treated properly and equally with other transport workers.
Things have been getting worse for years and are at an absolute low point now. This dispute has also shown up what a sham privatisation has been and how it is used to undermine the workers. TFL has claimed that the duty for paying the £500 (after tax) bonus we’re asking for is with the individual bus companies. But the bus companies say it’s with TFL. Both of them pass the blame on elsewhere and no one is responsible.
We have to put a stop to that behaviour. Both TFL and the companies are responsible. Conditions cannot go on like this. The anger is so huge that drivers, engineers and supervisors are striking together in solidarity for the first time ever. That means we are strong. We are united and determined, and we know that London needs us drivers working, with good equipment, the right tools to do our job. That’s why we are going to win.