The London mayor made his comments as bus drivers continue their dispute with London operators to secure a £500 payment in line with Transport for London staff. The Unite trade union, representing 21,000 bus workers, is incensed that its members will not receive any extra money: the tube unions have secured an £850 bonus and Boris bike staff on Wednesday were promised a £500 Olympic bonus. Unite announced new strike dates today and warned that industrial action was being "pushed closer and closer towards the Olympics".
But despite Johnson's support for bonuses, he was critical of Unite for failing to resolve the dispute. Johnson made his comments on Wednesday night at a conference after a bus driver in the audience asked why the London mayor appeared not to like bus drivers.
Johnson said he had no issue at all with bus drivers, whom he said did a "fantastic job" for London. While he would support them in "anyway I possibly can", he said the difference between them and bike hire staff and tube workers was that Transport for London, which he chairs, did not pay bus drivers directly. In a swipe at the capital's bus operators, he said those companies were "meant to sort this out" but had failed to do so "for months and months and months".
Pointing to the £8.3m recently contributed by the Olympic Delivery Authority for this purpose, Johnson expressed his disappointment that the dispute was still rolling on. He said, "I think many people in London, who are going to be working incredibly hard during the Olympics, without any bonus whatsoever, will think that is a very fair offer and it's now up to the bus companies and for Unite to get on and do a deal.
"What really distressed me and depressed me about the strike you mention is that at no stage did the Unite leadership actually put to their membership the offer of cash that was proposed by us, and I think that was a failure of negotiations. I want to see that offer made to all bus drivers. Because I would agree, frankly, that if people work extra during the games, as the tube drivers are being asked to do, if they're going to face real strains on the service, then it's only fair that they should be compensated. I want to see both bus companies and the Unite get on and do their deal."
Steve Turner, Unite's director of policy, said that while union welcomed the authority's £8.3m contribution, Johnson was "well aware" that this fell "far short" of the net £500 bonus the union first claimed 10 months ago. He quipped that the union would take "no lessons on leadership" from Boris Johnson. "He ought to get on one of his Boris bikes and get over to the conciliator Acas to resolve a serious dispute for our great city."
Unite is ready to reballot London bus drivers barred from striking over Olympic bonuses last Friday by a high court injunction. The union on Wednesday urged bus companies to "get back around the table" at the conciliation service, Acas, to resolve the dispute.
The impasse prompted Labour leader Ed Miliband to weigh in. He urged the union to avert industrial unrest during the Olympics when "the eyes of the world will be upon us".
During a speech to Unite's biennial conference in Brighton, he said Unite had shown "every hour of every day, up and down the country in the work you do, that co-operation is the best way forward for the people you represent. The best way to resolve this dispute is by all sides getting round a table and negotiating a solution. I know you believe that and have called for that again in the last 24 hours. But we cannot let industrial action disrupt the Olympics and damage this special moment for Britain."
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