London bus drivers may strike during Olympics
Sat, 23 Jun 2012 12:28p.m.
Union leaders representing London's bus workers said drivers had not ruled out a strike during the Olympic Games if pay demands were not met, and warned of chaos as a result.
London bus drivers began a 24-hour strike on Friday in a dispute over Olympic bonus payments. The walkout by thousands of drivers, representing 85 percent of the bus workforce, is to demand an extra 500 pounds (780 USD) for each worker during the London 2012 Games, in recognition of the extra passengers they are expected to carry.
Peter Kavanagh, London regional secretary for union Unite, said bus drivers could make or break the Games.
"London bus workers will be central and critical to the smooth running of the Games. They carry 6.5 million passengers every day, and the anticipation is there will be one million additional passengers from every corner of the world, speaking every language in the world, and bus workers will be literally like ambassadors during the Games, getting people to the Games on time, in a safe and efficient manner," he said.
He warned of traffic chaos if drivers went on strike during the Olympics.
"Without those buses I'm afraid we'll probably be looking at gridlock during the period of the Games," he said.
He said it was a 'tragedy' that a strike during the Olympics was on the table, but that responsibility lay with bus companies and Transport for London (TfL).
"No other worker has had to take any action, all other workers have been able to sit down with their employers. It's a tragedy it's come to this, but we've got plenty of time to thrash this out," he said.
Train drivers have already struck deals to get Olympic bonus payments, ranging from 500 pounds (780 USD) to 900 pounds (1,400 USD) per worker on the capital's trains and metro services.
Unite estimates it would cost 14m pounds (21m USD) to provide a 500 pound bonus for every bus driver. An extra 8.3 million pounds (12.9m USD) has been earmarked to offer to bus drivers, but Unite rejected this sum.
At Transport for London's (TfL) traffic monitoring centre, London's surface transport chief Leon Daniles said unions seemed determined to disrupt an event that most Londoners were embracing.
"Frankly, they've been keen on having this dispute somewhere about something, so to some extent we believe that today's dispute was almost inevitable because they were determined to have it. You're entirely right, it doesn't look good for London, it's really very, very bad news and it's quite different to everybody else I meet in London. People are excited about the Games," he said.
Daniles said the Olympics posed a unique challenge to TfL, but they were ready to face it.
"What's different for us at the Olympics is not just the size of the event, it's the relentlessness of it, because it's day after day after day for 17 days, and on many of those days there are events actually taking place on the road itself. So quite a lot to do, but as you can see, here in the control room here at TfL we've got control here of the bus services, also the streets, the Metropolitan Police are here as well, there's wonderful cooperation in this room of inter-agency working to ensure that London's streets keep moving," he said.
This is the first time bus drivers have been on strike city-wide in London in 30 years.
Office workers at Transport for London are also planning a 24-hour strike on July 1 over Olympic bonuses.
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