Speaking ahead of the embargo passing on Sadiq Khan’s announcement of a new minimum wage for bus drivers, a fellow journalist and I managed to predict almost to the word the Conservative London Assembly group’s reaction.
Coming out against a decent fixed starting rate and proposals to reward long service just days before Christmas doesn’t seem a very wise move. London’s Tories might want to consider whether their Scrooge routine helps Theresa May’s efforts to position their party as on the side of the hard pressed worker.
The rationale behind the minimum starting rate band is sound – competitive tendering for routes risks operators trying to lower costs by slashing away at pay rather than finding efficiencies in their business models.
Sadiq’s move means the drivers who risk abusive passengers, work late hours and spend their days isolated from colleagues won’t be subsidising shareholder dividends.
This is the kind of positive change Mayors can and are supposed to affect.
It’s also one Tories on the Assembly used to support.
For example, back in 2003 former Assembly Member Roger Evans – later deputy mayor of London under Boris Johnson – asked Ken Livingstone what he was doing to “encourage more bus drivers to remain in the profession”.
Livingstone had already introduced a modest top-up to driver pay which was initially paid as a separate supplement but later rolled into the fees Transport for London paid operators and had accelerated the roll-out of on-board CCTV and overseen the introduction of the Transport Operational Command Unit as part of a package of measures aimed at increasing driver safety and support.
By 2003 he was also able to boast of having “reviewed standards of recruitment and is encouraging best practice across operators, as well as creating a climate where there are more promotional jobs, such as supervisors, controllers and managers.”
However Ken’s enthusiasm for topping up bus driver pay eventually waned and by the closing weeks of his Mayoralty in March 2008 his and TfL’s position was that it was for drivers and their employers to resolve pay disputes.
It’ll be interesting to see how long Sadiq’s support for action in this area lasts – especially when operators do come asking him to make a contribution.
But today’s action is a proportionate and fair-minded step which will ensure starting pay is good enough that parts of the city don’t end up with a shortage of drivers and that large operators aren’t making their money at the expense of the workforce.
As such it’s a move everyone should support.