A living wage for bus drivers

BUS DRIVERS across Northern Ireland have had no option but to take strike action to try to achieve a living wage. The one day strike in October was completely solid and was massively backed by the public.

Most workers were angry that their union officials suspended planned strikes even though Translink had not come up with a new offer. It is likely that further action will be necessary if this dispute is to be won.

No bus driver wants to disrupt the service and make it difficult for people to travel or for kids to get to school. But the responsibility for any possible future disruption lies with Translink, who expect drivers to carry out a responsible job for poverty wages.

The basic rate for drivers is a miserly 13,500 per year. The only way they earn enough to make ends meet is by working long and unsocial hours. They have to carry out a difficult and often dangerous job, constantly facing the threat of attack and injury, especially when driving at night.

Changes to the service which management have introduced have made the job more difficult and worsened the service for the public. Route times have been speeded up, setting drivers impossible targets. This means they are liable to be penalised if they take time to offer the public the courteous service they would like.

The background to this dispute is the threat to de-regulate and privatise the bus service. Translink's substantial profits have not been invested in upgrading the bus service. This would not be the first time that a public service has been deliberately run down to open the way to privatisation.

De-regulation - the opening of routes to private operators - would lead to chaos and a worse service, as has been the case where it has been introduced in Britain.

Instead of less money, we need major investment in a publicly owned and fully integrated service. We also need an elected Transport Authority with those who work in the service and who use it directly represented. This could ensure that the service is run by people who have an interest in the development of public transport, not in profit.

Civil servants pay dispute looms

MORE THAN 20,000 NIPSA members will be balloted for strike action during November. The dispute has resulted from the paltry 2% pay rise offered to civil servants across Northern Ireland.

By a NIPSA Civil Service Executive member

The below inflation offer was made in September, a full five months after workers should have received their 2003 pay increase. But to make matters worse, the derisory increase was made conditional on workers accepting strings that would adversely affect their working hours and promotion prospects.

The changes to working hours will mean that workers may be forced to work until 8pm in the evening and on Saturdays without any overtime payments.

Consultation with the members concerned showed that a massive 92% are prepared to take industrial action. Their anger has been intensified by the fact that senior civil servants have awarded themselves 9% increases, in some cases, with huge bonuses of 3,000 and 6,000 and they received their pay award in June.

Civil Service management responded to NIPSA attempts to negotiate by immediately withdrawing the offer. As we go to press, there is no offer on the table which means that NIPSA has no option but to proceed with the strike ballot.

NIPSA members are quite clear that the government are behind the current situation.

Meetings of activists and members are now being held in every area to prepare for the action. Feedback so far indicates that members have realised there is no option but to strike. They are also aware that battles with this Labour government are hard fought. It is essential that a militant rank and file base of activists is developed to ensure the action succeeds.

The first issue facing the new Assembly could be industrial action by civil servants. We must demand that the politicians declare their stance in their manifestos. If they want to receive the votes of angry NIPSA members, they better make clear where they stand on the vital issue of pay.

Demand action on parity

AT THE end of November all teachers in Northern Ireland will be balloted for strike action. In an unprecedented show of unity the five main unions, under the umbrella of the Northern Ireland Teachers Council, will ballot their members.

By Mary Cahillane - INTO Executive member

At issue is pay parity with teachers in England and Wales. The employers are threatening to break parity by refusing to backdate incremental pay to September 2002, which is the last time teachers here had any sort of incremental movement on the pay scale.

They say they will only back pay to September 2003. For young teachers, this could mean a loss of up to 4000 and for anyone near retirement age it could mean anything up to 10,000 in pension provision.

The employers say there is no money. This despite the fact that 50 million was sent back to the British Exchequer last year, 14 million of which was from the education budget.

Teachers are rightly angry but they are afraid of being sold out by their own unions. Experience has shown them that NITC unity is a very fragile thing which can fall apart at a blink.

A demonstration of this anger was expressed at a recent joint meeting of activists from all the main teaching unions.

At the meeting, it was agreed to form a pressure group called "Teachers Together" which would not only campaign for a "yes" vote, but would also campaign to put pressure on the NITC leadership and the paid union officials to ensure that teachers are not sold short.

There was real anger also at the lack of democracy that exists in the trade union movement where members have very little say in what is happening. The NITC hasn't shown much bottle in the past, despite being in quite a powerful position. This time they won't get away with it so easily.

Postal walkouts

Postal workers have returned to work after two weeks of industrial action. The strikes were provoked by Royal Mail management who suspended workers in London. Royal Mail thought that the postal workers could be defeated after the leadership of the CWU had failed to win a majority in a ballot for strike action at the end of the summer.

They were clearly taken aback by the militant response of postal workers as unofficial strike action spread throughout the country.

The leadership of the CWU was also unprepared for the determination of their members to fight.

So a deal was struck to defuse the situation and bring about a return to work. This deal involves significant concessions by the CWU leaders, including the abolition of the second delivery. This will go down very badly in many sorting offices.

An emergency national conference of the CWU should now be called to consider this deal and to work out a national strategy of industrial action to prevent Royal Mail implementing its so called "modernisation".

For more articles from the November 2003 edition of Socialist Voice

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