London Olympic Bus Strikes: Employment Issues | LabourBlawg

London Olympic Bus Strikes: Employment Issues

by Employment Blawg on June 25, 2012

Below is a guest employment law blog post regarding the recent London Olympic Games bus strikes. For expert employment law advice, contact employment lawyers in Stirling.

On Friday 22nd June 2012 London bus drivers began a 24 hour strike following the breakdown in talks between Transport for London (TFL) and Unite, which is Britain’s largest trade union. The strikes caused anger not only amongst London’s commuters but also from the many A-level students due to sit their exams. It resulted in some ugly scenes particularly in South London where police had to be called to one incident in Camberwell. TFL urged Londoners to consider alternative modes of transport during the strike particularly cycling or walking.

The strike, which ended at 03:00 on Saturday morning and affected 17 bus companies, was in relation to a £500 bonus payment for bus drivers during the Olympic Games which are to be stage in London this summer. Despite a high court injunction against some bus companies (including London General, Aviva, the Shires and Metroline) the remainder of the workforce, which amounts to around 85%, went on strike according to TFL and only a third of bus services continued to run in parts of central, south and north London.

Peace talks were brokered by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) but failed even after the intervention of London Mayor Boris Johnson after Unite accused bus operators’ handling of the matter. In a parting shot Unite also warned that strike action could also take place during the Olympic Games themselves, which would have huge implications on London’s already stretched and overcrowded transport network.

Refusal to pay bus drivers the extra £500 during the Olympics is seen as unreasonably by Unite who consider that it would simply bring bus drivers in line with other transport operators. They point out that those working on the Tube, the Overground and on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) are entitled to payouts of £500 up to £2,500.  This includes £700 for Heathrow Express workers, £500 for Network Rail employees, £900 for the DLR, £600 for London Overground and at least £850 for those working on the London Underground.

The bus operators said in a statement that they agreed to offer 80% of drivers the £500 payment but only if they worked throughout the Olympics (covering 29 days). This is because TFL believes that London’s bus network will not be under as much strain as the rest of the transport system, particularly those bus routes that do not cover the Olympics. This was rejected by bus drivers who claim that tourists will be looking to travel all over London and once the tube and rail networks become overcrowded people will flock to the buses, leaving them to deal with disgruntled commuters, residents and tourists.

The £500 bonus is to be met by an £8.3 million subsidy from the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), which was secured by Boris Johnson after initially being very quiet on the issue. However, it is argued that Unite’s demands would require at least further £6 million, although some sources claim it could be double that figure and the bus operators accuse Unite of trying to exploit the Olympic Games particularly as Unite rejected the Mayor’s offer of financial assistance without putting it to their members.

Of course something has got to give very soon otherwise the picket lines mounted outside bus depots on Friday morning could become a familiar image during the London Olympics which is now less than five weeks away. However a resolution does not appear to be close particularly as Unite plans to appeal the High Court Injunction which prevented other members and bus drivers from joining in the strike. The London Olympics are heavily reliant on public transport and any strikes during this period would be nothing short of a disaster.

London’s iconic buses carry the most passengers of any mode of public transport. Approximately 7,500 buses carry 6 million passengers each weekday compared to the tube’s 3.5 million and there are around 70 bus depots in the capital.

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