In the Saint story, "The Sleepless Knight", a cyclist has been hit and killed by a truck driver, who explains he has been working under inhumane conditions -- he and his fellow drivers have been only allowed four hours sleep a week if they are to complete their routes on time for the boss, Sir Melvin Flagler. Reading this account of "modern slavery", the Saint takes it upon himself to show the smug managing director of the company a better way to run his business by strapping him to a driving simulator, and administering shocks if he falls asleep, while Sir Melvin has to undergo the same sleep regime as his drivers.
The current bus strike seems to be over retaining longer hours, as long - with overtime - as 70 hours, or possibly even more. Tristen Dodd, of Transport says there is a clause in the new bus contract that employees can only work a maximum of 54 hours per week - 15 hours more than their basic week but significantly less than some drivers are currently working in overtime.
You would think that bus drivers welcomed this. After all, this is an account given by a UK bus driver, saying that long working hours are a bad thing:
"We work on shifts consisting of mornings (days) and afternoons (afters). But the day shift could start from 4am up to 6am - that's our time starts on a weekly basis. This means we get a meal maybe 9am one day, it could be anything up to 12 noon the next day, then drop back 8 or 9am. On afters we sign on, say 2.30pm we might get a quick cup of tea at about 4 o'clock but we might and often do, have to wait until 7.30pm to 8.30pm before we get a proper meal break. So, no matter what shift we do, we never get the same meal break two or three days in a row."
There's a study called "Working Long Hours" by Health and Safety Laboratory Sheffield which was done in 2003, and notes that:
The 1993 European Directive on Working Time, which came into force in the UK through the Working Time Regulations in October 1998, was introduced to limit the number of hours worked because long or abnormal working hours were thought to be detrimental to health. The main features of the European Directive include working hours of no more than 48 hours a week averaged over a 17-week period, a minimum daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours, and a minimum weekly rest period of 1 day averaged over 14 days.(1)
And it also notes a study on bus drivers:
A quasi-experimental field study by Meijman (1997) utilized objective measures of fatigue with a sample of bus drivers and driving examiners in The Netherlands. The researchers noted that after seven hours of work and sleep loss (an early start), information processing broke down This was interpreted as a serious sign of mental fatigue. Performance could no longer be protected by extra effort on the part of the individual. (1)
In fact, the TUC also argues the case - for the workers - for shorter working hours on safety and health reasons. It notes that:
The UK tops the European long hours league. And is the only country that allows staff to opt out of the 48-hour working week ceiling introduced across the European Union as a health and safety measure. Those overworked are more stressed and less productive, liable to depression, strains and sprains and more exposed to the hazards of work. Working long hours makes for a work life imbalance that can wreck home life and personal relations. Working when tired can be dangerous and possibly fatal - studies have found driving tired can be as dangerous as driving drunk. (2)
While the Unite Union - the one which local bus drivers belong do, has this on its website:
British bus drivers work longer hours than their European counterparts. The transport workers' union Unite, says "For safety's sake, cut bus drivers' hours". Under present regulations a bus driver can quite legally work a 16 hour day - 10 hours of which can be spent behind the wheel.
It seems strange that both the TUC and Unite campaign for lessening hours, for bringing the UK more in line with the rest of Europe, but the Jersey bus drivers are going in the opposite direction, wanting to keep the bad old practices of long working hours.
Another glaring fault lies in the regulations on the minimum rest period between working days which is set at only 10 hours, which can be reduced to just 8 and a half hours three times a week. In reality, what this means is that a driver can quite legally work until midnight on one- day and have to start again the next day at 8.30 am. After the time spent travelling home and then trying to relax from the stresses of the day, as you can imagine, it could easily be well into the early hours of the morning before the driver can actually get a few hours sleep before having to report back for work. Five hours sleep for a driver is not uncommon and obviously this leads to an accumulation of fatigue that can have a serious effect on driving skills and perhaps safety of the passengers also. (3)
Fatigue is a problem worldwide. In the USA, a study showed that the hours worked were again excessive:
Some Metrobus drivers are working more than 20 hours in a day, four more than allowed even under Metro's own rules, according to a new agency study on fatigue. A summary of the report, slated to be presented to board members on Thursday, shows Metro had 146 cases in which drivers worked from 16.25 to 20 hours a day in the July 2011 study month. It had another 50 cases of drivers logging more than 20 hours without the required eight hours off in a 24-hour period. And the study found some logged up to 10 consecutive days of work, while some employees logged more than 80 hours per week.(4)
And regulation is needed. Some people, given the opportunity to clock up huge overtime, and extra pay - which is certainly the case with some of the local bus drivers, will do so. One Facebook user said "if someone wants to work overtime, that is neither your nor my business. They can do what they like." But that's the real problem. Some bus drivers will ignore safety aspects and place material gain first, so it is important that these are regulated, not just left to individual choice:
James Benton said fatigue is the same safety issue on trains and buses. "Employees will work huge amounts of overtime if you let them based on their personal needs, their retirement," he said. "They don't know that their body is saying no in a lot of cases until it's too late."(4)
And returning to the TUC, here's a comment from the road safety website:
Despite the clear road safety and health risks associated with drivers working long hours, one in four bus drivers work more than 49.5 hours a week, while one in four van drivers work more than 48 hours a week.
The TUC submission recommends giving drivers of buses, coaches and some heavy vehicles that need a specialised operator's licence as much protection as HGV drivers, who are protected by the Road Transport Working Time Regulations 2005. (5)
It has been argued that there have been no fatalities on the roads caused by fatigue with Jersey bus drivers. But how many accidents have their been? I was once on a bus which was in a collision with a car by La Moye Garage, and I never remember reading about it in the paper. Of course, buses are built with solid plates, and I don't think it sustained much in the way of dents, unlike the car.
Moreover, is that a good argument? In the days before drink-driving regulations, I knew people who argued that they could "hold their drink", and had never had an accident driving. I don't think that's an acceptable argument against drink-driving regulations, and neither do I think that excessive hours should be ignored just because there has not been a fatality. Are we to wait until there is one before taking action?
Facebook users clearly don't like the idea:
"Who wants driver who's worked for 70 hours taking their kids home from school?"
"Would I want someone driving my child around, who has already worked 65 hours that week? End of the week, getting tired and miserable?"
"Are you actually defending people who want to drive for 70 hours a week just for the lucrative overtime money, and to hell with the safety aspect?
And finally, while striking is a basic right of employees, I would like to see some social responsibility as well. It may inconvenience adults, but does a strike really have to inconvenience school children as well? Can't the strikers consider - for the future - that they will still get their point across very clearly by a main passenger strike, but stopping school buses is not needed for that point. To strike is a basic workers right, but let's have some social responsibility as well. Do you really need to penalise school children to get your point across?
(1) "Working Long Hours" (2003) Joanne White MSc, Johanna Beswick
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