By Tom Unterrainer
DRIVERS working for NCT in Nottingham struck for 24 hours on 27 May in the first of a sequence of actions planned for consecutive Saturdays. The first strike saw the city’s bus system grind to a halt as TGWU members picketed the main depot in a solid day of action. People from around the East Midlands normally flock to Nottingham to spend their money but stores were very quiet this Saturday morning.
The strike took place in reaction to a miserly pay increase of 2.4% - equating to just 20p. After 95% of drivers voted to reject the offer and three meetings where management refused to improve the deal, the 2.4% was imposed. From early April the TGWU took a ballot for action which resulted in 93% in favour of strikes and 94% in favour of action short of a strike. At a further meeting management again refused to make improvements and have taken measures, including a ban on overtime, to discourage strike action.
Pay is not the only concern for Nottingham’s 830 bus drivers. They work under difficult conditions and are subject to a complex and unfair overtime system. Drivers work a standard 39 hour week on unsociable shifts with no extra pay. This can mean driving early in the morning, after 9pm and well into the night with no compensation.
Colin Gell, union branch secretary at NCT, explained that this is just one of a number of problems in a system dependent on drivers taking overtime. If drivers are off sick they
have to make up the hours before overtime is offered and, unlike NCT’s 29 managers, receive reduced pay while they are ill.
Management claim that drivers take home an average of £19,500 a year, but drivers we spoke to said this was a plain lie. Trainee drivers start on just £7 per hour which increases to £7.30 after training. At 39 hours a week, this is around £13,000 a year without overtime.
NCT drivers are also subjected to a new allocation system which has resulted in double bookings, where two drivers are put on the same bus – on the same route at the same time. Management cock up but the drivers suffer. In addition, they keep finding money to improve Nottingham’s bus stock (well ahead of the agreed timescale) and seem to have decided that spending £11,000 to put embroidery on every bus seat is more important than ensuring drivers receive a living wage.
The drivers are determined to keep up their action until they get an improved pay offer.