Hackney school bus drivers and assistants for children with special needs have continued threats to strike over a Covid-19 dispute.
Members of Unite voted for strike action on November 13 and have still not settled. No action has yet been confirmed, but, on Monday, the union’s regional officer for the borough, Onay Kasab said : “Unless there is quick progress, we will announce dates.”
Unite’s demands include a one-off Covid lump sum of £500 for their Hackney members. Kasab added: “ [it would] go some way towards recognising the value of the work they undertake”.
“Not so long ago we were clapping essential workers, but clapping does not pay the bills.”
Councillor Caroline Woodley, Cabinet Member for Families, Early Years and Play said: “We are unable, under existing pay structures, to offer bonus payments – that mechanism doesn’t exist. We have to stick to our pay structure to maintain fairness across all our council staff.”
Kasab has rejected this claim, and argues that such payments are possible as workers are covered by a national agreement. Citing other councils such as Newham which have made similar payments.
Unite’s other concerns include Covid safety. Kasab said: “Our members were working on school buses with a capacity of 32 and which would have up to 25 children on board. This made social distancing impossible.”
However, Woodley said: “We have engaged with all the workers about any health and safety concerns and are not aware of any outstanding issues.”
“Their work is very important and we don’t want to see any disruption to it,” she added.
Discussions about savings and the cost of school buses for children with SEN took place at a Hackney Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Commission on November 2.
The council’s Director of Education Annie Gammon, said in some circumstances it might not be in the “benefit of the child to be picked up by a special school bus.”
She argued that in these individual cases, assessments need to be made about “whether it is better for [the child] to be more independent in travelling.”