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Tolworth Garage picket line

Tolworth Garage picket line. Photo: Srikanth Viswanatha

The feeling of being let down and anger was palpable on the bus drivers' picket at Tolworth Garage, reports Sri Viswanatha

A line of drivers in hi-vis jackets holding red Unite the Union flags and banners on Kingston Road (A240) welcomes anyone heading to Tolworth Station. The picket, at the entry to Tolworth Garage, was up and running from 5am.

When I got there at mid-afternoon it still was going strong despite the gloomy weather, with some drivers returning for a second shift at the picket line after their early morning session.

Martin Underhill is a driver with London United, one of the three companies whose drivers have balloted to strike. He is also a member of Unite union and was going to be on the picket line till the end of the day.

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Martin Underhill. Photo: Srikanth Viswanatha

He was especially angry at the new work conditions being proposed by RATP which effectively could mean around a £2,500 reduction to his salary. With the increase in unpaid "break" period from 40 to 60 minutes, he loses an hour a day at work without pay. The move towards bringing in "zero-hour" contracts adds more uncertainty to all drivers. 

Martin and his colleagues have worked through the lockdown period to ensure all essential workers were able to get to work and back, all the while exposing themselves to the virus. RATP had not provided them with critical PPE until three months into the lockdown, leading to many avoidable infections and sadly some deaths amongst their ranks.

"I'd prefer not to be on strike, I understand the stress it can cause to the families and communities I serve. But I hope they understand that I also have to support my family and the conditions offered by the RATP will make it harder to do this."

He urges all passengers and other members of the public to please spread the word and speak to drivers if you can at the picket lines.

"I hope that the RATP will resolve this issue soon with talks with the union, we are not something that they can just use and throw away. We just want to be treated like humans."

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