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Drivers of disabled kids' school buses in Hackney ​plan six days of strike action over split shifts

PUBLISHED: 09:07 14 June 2019 | UPDATED: 09:55 20 June 2019

Hackney Town Hall. Picture: Ken Mears

Hackney Town Hall. Picture: Ken Mears

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Drivers and passenger escorts on disabled kids' school buses are going on strike next week because Hackney Council has refused their demands for £50 a week extra to work split shifts.

The school bus depot in Lea Bridge RoadThe school bus depot in Lea Bridge Road

The workers who staff about 14 buses - which each carry 18 to 19 autistic children aged four to 18 to and from school - arrive at the Lea Bridge Road depot to start a two-hour shift at 7.30am.

Once that's over they then have five-and-a-half-hours to kill until the next two-hour shift at 3pm.

Many of the 38 staff travel home and back - which equates to a daily commute of at least four hours for just four hours' paid work.

Some people have to fit in two extra jobs in the day to make ends meet.

They claim the cost of a TfL travel card or monthly bus pass is crippling in relation to remuneration of just over £11 an hour.

The workers, members of union Unite, plan to stage six 24-hour strikes on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the coming three weeks.

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One passenger escort who spoke with the Gazette anonymously said they love their work, but described the demands of the job.

"The kids are very nice, but when one triggers off all of them, that's when the nightmare starts," they said. "We are nurses, councillors, mothers and advisors - we do all this on the bus. If a child gets sick we clean up the mess. If the child is distressed we have to calm them down. If a child is out of their seat while we are driving we have to stop and get that child on the seat and it's not the easiest of tasks. They will kick, bite, scream and we can't move until we get that child on the seat. We get hit, scratched, bitten. You name it.

"It is not an easy job at all, and by the time we get home we are so shattered."

But a spokesperson for the council said: "We're disappointed that Unite has taken this action which will again cause disruption to families of children with special needs. Staff pay and conditions are favourable when compared to other local authorities, and pay for these roles recently increased by 3.5pc to 5.1pc as part of the national pay deal which came into force in April.

"We value our staff who run this vital service for vulnerable young people and are disappointed that Unite are continuing to lead them into strike action when we have clearly explained that under our pay scheme we cannot simply 'top up' wages."

They added: "We strongly refute the claim that we have refused to negotiate and are always happy to talk to ACAS or directly to staff and their union representatives. In fact, when we met with representatives in April, we offered a pay increase linked to professional development. This was part of a review of pay and conditions that Unite declined to take part in.

"We have also taken on a number of agency staff as permanent members of staff, as requested by the union.

"Staff pay and conditions are favourable when compared to other local authorities, and pay for these roles recently increased by 3.5pc to 5.1pc as part of the national pay deal which came into force in April.

"We will do everything we can to ensure there is as little disruption as possible to SEND school transport if these strikes go ahead. During the last strike around half of services ran."

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