London braced for Christmas strike chaos

Bus drivers striking in Hackney: a sign of things to come? Photo: Matt Kendall

Bus drivers striking in Hackney: a sign of things to come? Photo: Matt Kendall

Trade unions are predicting a wave of strikes across the capital that could cause travel mayhem for East Londoners in the run up to Christmas.

Following last week’s 48-hour strike by drivers at East London Bus Company, new industrial action has been taken by Hackney bus drivers and by engineers on London Underground.

Workers have voiced the possibility of a co-ordinated strike across all London bus groups at some point in the near future.

Drivers from Hackney CT Plus group went on strike for 24 hours on Friday. Starting at 4am, it affected services across Hackney & Islington, forcing company management into operating interim services on two of the four affected routes.

Members of the Unite Union, which represents employees of CT Plus, claimed Hackney drivers are among the lowest paid in London. “The wage at Hackney CT is £11.53 per hour, whereas at the East London Bus Company they are on £14 per hour,” a Unite statement said.

“This is HCT Group’s best ever year. We have seen some senior managers have their salaries increased by at least 12.5 per cent. This is not about greed, this is not about being unreasonable, this is about being paid our worth.”

The strike was met with vociferous support from around a quarter of CT Plus’ 450-strong workforce, who spent a cold Saturday afternoon bellowing slogans and waving flags, drawing widespread support from passing motorists.

“Today has gone extremely well,” said one driver, who wished to remain anonymous. “We were well supported and we thank our members for coming out to let them [management] know how we really feel. Because sometimes we’ve been intimidated and bullied and all we’re asking for is fair pay.”

If demands for improved pay and adequate remuneration for overtime and unsociable hours are not met, further strike action will be taken, Unite said. Drivers at two other bus companies in London – First Centre West and First Capital East – have also voted for strike action over pay.

According to Unite, the Mayor of London, who chairs Transport for London, has made mistakes with the capital’s transport policy that have resulted in pay freezes for transport workers.

The union said: “Unite believes Londoners are suffering from the mistakes in the mayor’s transport strategy, which has wasted money on vanity projects like the abolition of bendy buses and the design competition for a new Routemaster, plus the abandonment of fund raising measures like the Western Extension Zone and the gas guzzling charge on the rich.

“The mayor and Transport for London are now seeking to raise money by big fare increases and cuts in real wages of the workers who keep London moving.”

In a separate pay dispute London Underground engineering workers voted on Monday to take industrial action beginning with an overtime ban from 7 December. London Underground says services will not be affected by the action taken by around 500 staff. Unite is pushing for a pay increase greater than the 1.5 per cent on offer.

A driver on strike at East London Bus Company claimed bosses have gradually chipped away at their conditions. “The companies are just jumping on the bandwagon by talking about the recession all the time,” he said. “They have even taken our Christmas vouchers off us. It’s like they’ve pushed and pushed and we have finally stood up to them.”

By Neil Roberts and Matt Kendall

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