Bus passengers in London faced significant disruption as thousands of drivers walked out as part of a campaign for a single agreement covering pay and conditions.
Nine bus companies across Greater London have been affected, but about 40 routes remained in service. Members of the Unite union, which represents more than 27,000 bus workers at 18 bus companies, are seeking a single deal similar to that for Tube drivers.
There are more than 80 different pay rates covering drivers doing the same job, leading to differences in hourly rates, said the union.
Transport for London (TfL) said the strike would affect daytime services on Tuesday and night bus services operating into Wednesday morning.
There are about 6.5m bus journeys made every day in London, so the stoppage is expected to cause widespread disruption. A survey of 1,600 bus passengers for Unite showed two-thirds backed the drivers’ campaign.
Wayne King, London regional officer for Unite, said: “London’s bus operators have raked in millions in profits while driving down pay and refusing to tackle pay inequality on the capital’s buses. As bus company directors enjoy lottery-style salaries, bus drivers doing the same job on the same route are being pitted against one another on different rates of pay.
Leon Daniels, TfL’s managing director of surface transport, said: “It is extremely disappointing that Unite has decided to go ahead with this unnecessary disruption, especially given the low turnout for the ballot and low numbers voting for the strike. Bus drivers’ pay and conditions are a matter for the bus companies and Unite to discuss, as it has been for 20 years, and we continue to urge them to seek a swift and fair resolution for the sake of our passengers.”
A spokesman for Metroline, one of the bus companies involved, said: “We apologise to our passengers for the disruption caused by the strike.
“Only one in five of our drivers voted, with less than one in six voting for strike action. This is an unprecedented low level of support to strike and Unite’s decision to pursue industrial action is unnecessary and extremely disappointing.
Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, said the strike underlined the need for curbs on industrial action being pushed by the Conservatives.
The mayor – who lacks the powers of intervention he enjoys with Underground services – told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “It is very, very sensible to have different pay rates across London. There are different working environments, different labour markets across the city.”
At the weekend, the Tories said they would legislate to make it more difficult for unions to call strikes in key public services if they win the election in May.
Industrial action in the health, education, transport and fire services would require the support of at least 40% of all those entitled to take part in strike ballots – as well as a majority of those who actually turn out to vote.
The TUC has argued it would effectively end the right to strike in the public sector at a time when Conservatives are planning pay restraint and large-scale job cuts.