Unite members in Surrey dispute Abellio’s claim it does not make a profit

Abrellio Surrey busMore than 100 bus drivers in Surrey are today being balloted for strike action in a dispute over ‘salami slicing’ their pay and working conditions.

The Unite members employed by Dutch-owned Abellio work out of the company’s Byfleet depot and disagree with the firm’s claim it cannot make a profit, saying large profits are taken by the Dutch government before the residue is declared for tax in Britain.

Abellio is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the main train-operating company in the Netherlands, Nederlandse Spoorwegen, itself wholly-owned by the Dutch government.

The dispute centres on how a two-year offer on pay and conditions agreed by Abellio Surrey in 2014 is being ignored and by-passed by management.

Unite regional officer Dave Weeks said: “Now, less than a year into the deal, the firm has unilaterally reneged on one of the key elements

“Last year, it agreed to increase the new starter rate to £11.11 per hour and to reduce the time drivers had to serve before qualifying for full pay from two years to one and nine months.

“However, earlier this year the bosses said that they were imposing a far lower rate of £9.46 per hour, with no further negotiation, and that drivers on it would never qualify for the higher rate of £11.90 per hour.

“Abellio claims it can’t make a profit, if Surrey County Council threatens to withdraw its subsidy. Our members are complaining that large profits are taken by the Dutch government before the residue is declared for tax in Britain.

“Abellio is draining out of the local economy without putting anything back.

“Another element of the dispute is that the drivers are seeking an improvement in meal breaks.  Local bus drivers are excluded from most of the provisions of the European working time directive because their work is covered by the domestic driving hours regulations.

“While bus and coach drivers working under European hours rules are entitled to a 45-minute break after four-and-a half hours driving, the entitlement for those driving on local domestic routes is for a minimum of 30 minutes after five-and-a half hours.

“If you drive on a motorway, you see lots of signs reminding you to ‘Take a break – fatigue kills’.  Yet bus drivers can drive for up to 10 hours-a-day and do non-driving work for several hours more, with only a 30-minute break.

“All we’re asking for is another 15 minutes. It’s a question of health and safety for passengers and staff.

“What this hardline management, which refuses to negotiate, is doing is a systematic salami slicing of our members’ terms and conditions. This is the reason for the strike ballot. In a recent consultative ballot the drivers voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.”

Last year, Unite campaigned for decent breaks for bus drivers throughout south east England.  Other companies negotiated a minimum break of 45 minutes; but Abellio refused to even consider this proposal.

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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