Strikes by bus drivers for disabled children loom again as talks break down

Unite bus drivers’ picket line. Photograph: Unite.

Talks between trade unionists and the Town Hall over pay for bus drivers of disabled children have broken down. 

Trade union Unite had suspended industrial action over the drivers’ split shift rates pending talks through arbitration service ACAS. 

However, strikes are now back on the table following Unite’s discontent over what it characterises as the council’s “regrettable” position on pay. 

In a 1 April letter to councillors, Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “Unite the Union had suspended industrial action last week as an act of good faith in order that talks could take place at ACAS. 

“Our members had agreed to suspend the action on the basis of a written assurance that was given by the employer that a review of pay and conditions would include ‘ensuring fair pay rates’. 

“However, it quickly became very clear that the employer had no intention whatsoever to consider an increase in pay rates, thus making the talks pointless. It is regrettable that the employers chose to take this position. 

“The employer is well aware that in order to settle the dispute we must reach agreement to financially compensate our members who work split shifts. 

“The employer’s only offer was to consider a one off lump sum for staff who attend 10 days of professional development courses – in other words pay for attendance on a course, something which we would normally expect payment for regardless of the dispute.” 

Unite will now prepare for further strike action in the new school term, and said that many of its members feel “misled” after being told by the council that talks would include pay. 

Cllr Chris Kennedy (Lab, Hackney Wick), cabinet member for families, early years and play said that the Town Hall is “disappointed” by Unite’s decision to walk away: “Council officers met with ACAS and Unite last week, when the council agreed to offer permanent, in-house roles to a number of agency staff. 

“We also offered to hold a review of pay and conditions, with a group of staff and representatives from the union.  

“Unite has declined to take part in this review if the council cannot guarantee a pay grade increase at the end of the process.

“We are pleased to take forward the opportunity to move staff on to permanent contracts, despite not reaching agreement about pay and conditions.

“Staff pay and conditions are favourable when compared to other local authorities, and pay for these roles will increase by 3.5-5.1 per cent as part of the national pay deal which comes into force this month.

“We value our staff who run this vital service for vulnerable young people and are disappointed that Unite have walked away from these talks. We would welcome the opportunity to embark on the proposed review.”