Capitalism to an economist means a mechanism of wealth creation and distribution, whereas a layman’s interpretation of the word is how the workers in this world get ‘screwed’ by the rich employers – strange, eh? Or is it just a strange case of Homographs?
The London Bus drivers are an unusual breed. The workers in this industry come from a vastly different range of backgrounds. Some have been in this industry since they left school, which could have been 30 years ago and many, have more recently, come from several other professions in the recent years, as job markets have changed with recession in our economy leading to redundancies in many sectors. The privatisation of the bus industry and much of the transport sector had opened many lucrative opportunities for individuals with the right business approach, because of the huge subsidies and opportunities to return massive profits for their shareholders. The controls and monitoring of performance of the privatised industry were poor for almost the first 20-25 years, leading to most profits made by such companies in this period. Hence we saw the proliferation of many European companies enter the UK transport sector because of the huge potential profit margins with little control. While the economy was strong and companies made eye-watering profits, the workers were also enjoying above-average wages and reaping rewards of a newly privatised industry in its infancy, while the darker forces of capitalism slowly gathered force.
Slightly tighter controls by the public bodies like TfL (Transport For London) and use of technology to monitor the performances of these privatised companies began to take place in the mid-noughties and they suddenly, began to feel the mild squeeze on their, earlier easily derived, profits. The bosses could not suddenly let their life-styles suffer. Hence, came the onslaught on workers’ terms and conditions and pay scales. With pretty blatant collusion with the unions, the old pay structures were slashed and new terms and conditions imposed on drivers and an ever increasing pressure on established drivers with implied fear of job loss if they fail to comply, despite the fact the employers needed these drivers to keep the services running. The recent recession had provided the employers with an endless stream of new applicants willing to do the job despite the increasing imbalance between the working hours/pay/terms. The older established drivers fear losing their jobs for the slightest misdemeanour, because of increasingly punitive approach by company managers, who are under increasing pressure from the bosses due to their own amended work contracts. The companies try to extract every extra minute out of the drivers that the extremities of the ‘Driving Hours’ law provides them, with no regard to health and safety of the employees.
Direct impact on drivers
- Many drivers are now doing over 37% more hours, at times, to earn the same daily pay as in 2010
- Drivers are being given less travel time between destinations (garage and route terminus) to start and finish off their ‘profitable’ part of the duty
- Drivers are given less preparation time from the first sign-on time to start their duty and also less time (sometime none) to start the second part of their duty after their meal-relief (lunch time to the non-initiated)
- Duties starting at unusually early hours, like 3 am or 4 am used to be shorter jobs to offer drivers more rest time. This is no longer the case. You could still be expected to work for 10-11 hours, despite starting your day at 3 am or 4 am. Imagine the impact of this on your concentration and health after 3-4 days of such duty.
- Annual pay-rise are hard to come-by, and a real struggle to extract out of the companies.
- Sickness pay, unsocial hours work, extra day work (rest day work), Sunday rates have all been cut to the bone or no longer available.
Drivers are their own worst enemy!
- Drivers do not help their own cause by, unknowingly, offering additional services to the employers which make their wage bill much lower than it should be.
- Drivers coming to work early (sometimes even 2-3 hours) offer their employers an army of unpaid workers to call upon if another driver is delayed or unable to make it to work, as these early arrivals will happily take on the other duty just so that they can finish a bit early. Such ‘stand-by’ drivers would otherwise need to be arranged by the company at additional cost.
- A driver, agreeing to do additional rest days at the same rate as any other day in the week means they are offering the company extra employees at no additional cost. Drivers also fail to recognise the adverse health effects of such long shifts over sustained periods of time doing this job.
- A blatant case of drivers not recognising their own strength has been when they fail to support their own unions, on rare occasions, when they have called a strike to fight against these attempts to drive down wages by the employers (in return for measly incentives offered by the employers).
Unions are nowhere to be seen while this onslaught is causing a severe deterioration in the job pay and conditions of all bus drivers across the capital. This is the epitome of the dark side of Capitalism, when profit making takes a higher position than anything else – including health and well-being of the workers, and also, indirectly, the business customers. Without being an alarmist – Imagine what a tired and frustrated bus driver can end up doing!