Strikes on bus service for disabled pupils are fault of council say union

Hackney town hall, Mare Street, Hackney, London

Hackney Town Hall. Pic: Fin Fahey

Strike action is being planned by drivers of Hackney Council’s school bus service for disabled children.

Unite, Britain’s largest union, has blamed the council for the upcoming strikes amid negotiations over pay.

The strikes will affect students with disabilities who may be unable to make it to school without their usual assistance.

It’s expected 33 members of the union will stage four 24-hour strikes on March 19 and 26 and April 2 and 4. Both bus drivers and passenger escorts will be taking part.

The council is to blame because it is “adamant refusal to negotiate” according to Onay Kasab, Regional Officer for Unite.

“Unite asked the employer to negotiate last year. Meetings have taken place – but all the council have said is ‘No’. That is not negotiation.”

Unite aims have the pay of the workers increased based on what is called a ‘grade’ in the National Joint Council Agreement’s Green Book.

They claim the rise is justified to compensate for working ‘split shifts’, dropping the kids off and then picking them back up later in the day. In real terms, this would mean an increase of £50 a week.

Hackney Council have rejected the need for a pay rise. Councillor Chris Kennedy, Cabinet Member for Families, Early Years and Play, said: “We’re surprised and disappointed that the union is taking this action now. The contracts are more generous than equivalent jobs in other local authorities, with fixed hours and routes.”

According to the council, they’re unable to make any changes under the existing pay structures. They have explained their position to Unite in various meetings and are currently unwilling to meet demands.

Despite Hackney Council saying their contracts are generous compared to other local authorities, Unite describe pay as “low” when considering the cost of living in London. This is further exacerbated by the split shift system “[which] can make finding a second job difficult”.

With no resolution yet reached, the council has begun preparing for the strikes. They are informing parents and have asked those who can to make alternative transport arrangements. For parents who won’t be able to, Kennedy said: “We’re asking them to contact us to see if there’s anything we can do to help on the day, but this is likely to be very limited”.

Unite have said they’re open to further talks with the council but will only call off the strike if a reasonable offer is made.

On the future of the campaign if a resolution is not met, Kasab said: “If strike action ends without a settlement, then the campaign will continue, including the possibility of further strike action.”

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