The Socialist 11 September 2019 |
Join the Socialist
| Audio | PDF | ebook
Unions must fight to make bus drivers and passengers safe
- Reverse the cuts
- Shorter hours
- One pay scale...the best!
- Renationalise our buses now
London bus, photo Graham Richardson (Creative Commons) (Click to enlarge)
Andy Beadle, Unite the Union shop steward (retired but still knackered after 23 years bus driving)
A major report has at last been published, following concerns over driver fatigue on London's buses. High levels of deaths and injuries involving buses have been recorded.
These led to years of campaigning by activists in Unite the Union, the Socialist Party and other groups concerned with road safety. Under pressure, Transport for London (TfL) finally ordered the survey "to understand if fatigue is a problem for London bus drivers, and if so, investigate the nature of this problem and propose solutions." (See content.tfl.gov.uk/bus-driver-fatigue-report.pdf).
When the boss isn't listening, any driver will tell you we're always knackered. And if TfL don't know (or pretend they don't know) why are they running the industry?
The Loughborough University survey was never going to blame the bus bosses, considering they were effectively the paymasters for this report. Yet despite the academic and sometimes diplomatic language, the truth shines through.
In each bus company a "focus group" of 6-8 drivers was interviewed. All of the participants believed that fatigue is an issue among London bus drivers.
In addition to shift work, insufficient sleep and long working hours they listed time to travel to work as a factor, with commuting times of up to one and a half to two hours each way. Additionally, due mainly to inadequate pay, levels of overtime are high.
Of 25,000 London bus drivers, 1,353 responded to a survey questionnaire. Alarmingly, 17% of drivers indicated that they had fallen asleep while driving the bus at least once in the past 12 months. 79% of drivers who responded believed that their working hours lead to sleepiness while driving the bus.
Of the ten bus firms operating for TfL, none has a formal or specific policy relating to driver fatigue despite the fact that most operators recognised that it is an issue that needs to be addressed.
The majority of participants know how to report fatigue, but many are unsure of how this would be handled by managers, and so few have ever done so. A small number of drivers had reported fatigue because of worries about the safety implications of carrying on working while tired.
Others believed they would face being disciplined if they admitted to feeling tired and suggested they would be more likely to call in sick in such a situation. Participants suggested that they were 'not allowed' to be tired and were unlikely to discuss fatigue either with managers, supervisors, or other drivers.
Two other notable points came out in the focus groups. There was a general wish for shorter hours with better pay, which it was thought would lead to a reduction in fatigue. And a more active union was cited as being required to help improve the working situation for bus drivers.
The big bus operators are the same companies responsible for the catastrophic safety outcome on Britain's railways. (First group does not operate buses in London at present.) Although TfL is supposed to regulate them, the truth is rather the other way round.
Unfortunately, the proposed solutions of the report do not consider the significance of the worsening in safety culture since London bus privatisation in the 1990s. The rule by the big public transport companies is not considered.
Instead, the report states that "all parties (drivers, managers, operators at all levels, TfL, borough councils, unions and the Department for Transport) have a part to play in implementing any proposed solution."
Bus workers cannot let themselves be lured into this approach. TfL on behalf of the big bus companies suggests drivers and unions take responsibility while they run the industry for private profit. Union involvement would be a trap.
Unite's objectives in its own rule book - based on many decades of collective experience - offer a practical approach. It demands a "socialist vision for... a collective society in which public services are directly provided on the basis of public need and not private greed, and... public ownership of important areas of economic activity and services including... local passenger transport."
Unite should see the recent demo outside London City Hall as a first step in a persistent and energetic campaign with these industrial as well as political demands.