As of 2015, new drivers with Arriva — the lowest payer for starter drivers — get £9.69 an hour. The previous starting rate with Arriva, before 2015, was £9.30 an hour. After eight years, a driver is on £12.89 an hour.
For Stagecoach drivers — the highest payer for starter drivers — the rate is £11.46. After two years, they reach the top rate of £15.63 an hour.
There are 80 different pay scales for drivers in London, across 18 different companies. They vary based on the company and the year that a driver started. TfL gives drivers a pass that works on public transport — buses, the tube and the Overground line.
The pass does not cover national rail trains, and many drivers commute from outside of London.
George Michael, a Unite rep at the Wood Green bus garage, spoke to Solidarity about the London bus dispute.
“Bus drivers in this country spend longer stints behind the wheel than drivers in any other European country.
“The EU maximum driving time is 4.5 hours without a break. In the UK, we do 5.5 hours. Every hour you spend behind the wheel, you’re responsible for people’s lives. And it’s not like working in an office or something where you can switch off now and then. It’s a fast environment – stopping, pulling out, dealing with passengers, watching the road. You’re constantly alert. And the volume of passengers in London has gone up, but there has been no increase in the service to match it.
“Drivers are being pushed to the extreme. Every day at work is a difficult day. It’s getting to the point where we are now worried about safety. You only have to look in the papers to see the accidents that are happening. It isn’t that we’re worse than we were five years ago. It’s the increase in volume in those five years.
“Money is a big issue for our drivers, too. If you’re not earning enough, you’ll do extra hours. That can take it out of you. After a week of getting up at 3 am to do a nine-hour shift, you’re not alert. Your body can’t keep up with shift changes, and that has implications for safety.
“Our timetables are not adequate to the task in hand and don’t allow us to do the job safely. Drivers won’t rush to keep to a timetable if that means compromising passenger safety, but then we get harassed by managers and supervisors.
“Engineers have a difficult job to do. They’re under enormous pressure: there aren’t enough of them, the fleet is made up of outdated vehicles, and companies don’t often stock the right parts for these older models. So, where they’re unable to get the parts, engineers are obliged to perform short-term fixes to get the buses ready to go out on the road – but they can’t solve the problems permanently, and the buses keep on coming back for repairs. Engineers can feel very frustrated in their work because it feels like they’re never finishing the jobs they start.
“Most engineers are in the union. Engineers tend to be paid better than drivers — but new engineers are now being put on a contract which will give them worse pay and different shift patterns. They also don’t have pay equality across the companies.
“I don’t think it’s likely that engineers will join the drivers’ dispute straight away — but this attack on new engineers’ conditions is going to store up trouble for the future, and we will likely see joint action further down the line.
“Strike action is always the last resort, and asking our members to strike is hard. They are so badly paid, striking makes a big dent in their incomes. We started on 13 January, and there isn’t a timetable for the next actions yet. We are waiting for updates from the union on how the situation has changed, and then we’ll see what will happen next.
“We want to talk to the company — all they have to do is to pick up the phone.”