After two rounds of strikes by Athens bus cleaners, a 15-day and an 8 day-strike, and a series of protests (outside the offices of their boss, the contractor Link Ap, the bus company administration, OSY, and the Ministry of Transport) OSY agreed, on Friday 3 June, to give the bus cleaners a significant part of the money that the contractor owed them. OSY also pledged to give the cleaners full payment of all money owing them, directly from OSY. Once the money was deposited in the cleaners’ bank accounts, a general meeting of the bus cleaners decided to end their strike and to return to work.
The cleaners were unpaid for the last three to five months (depending on the garage/depot where they work). In addition, the salary they received from the contractor was just 450 euro per month, instead of, at least, 680 euro, which is the legal salary they should get for a six hour night shift, including work on Sundays etc.
After 15 days of strikes by bus cleaners in four depots, the contractor (Link Up) retreated and made the following agreement with the bus company (OSY): OSY would not pay the contractor, but use the money instead to directly pay the bus cleaners. This agreement would apply until all debts to the bus cleaners were fully paid.
However, for this agreement to be implemented, in practice, the bus cleaners had to strike for another eight days because it was revealed that the contractor took a bank loan of 2.3 million euro and pledged the monthly payment he got from the bus company to repay. In order to secure the loan, the contractor used bus cleaners’ salaries as ‘collateral’ and funds meant for their social security etc. In addition, it was revealed that he had neither insurance nor tax clearance.
The bus cleaners felt cheated by both the contractor and the bus company administration, which should have been aware that the monthly payments to the contractor were pledged instead to cover a bank loan. So the cleaners renewed their strike action and this time they were joined by bus cleaners in the other three bus garages.
With the bus cleaners in all seven out of seven garages on strike, with protests outside the bus company office and the Ministry of Transport, with the media coverage of the strike, and solidarity letters from local and global activists, unions, Irish MPs (Anti-Austerity Alliance/Socialist Party) etc., expressing their solidarity with the cleaners, the contractor was eventually forced to pay money owed to social security and provide the OSY bus company with the relative documents so that they could start giving payments to the bus cleaners.
The bus cleaners had to fight a very hard, long battle for the most basic workplace right: to be paid for their labour! The bus cleaners not only had to fight against the contractor but also the new, Syriza-appointed bus company management, which refused to assume their responsibilities to monitor the contractor (for example, to see if the contractor was paying the bus cleaners, if the wages cleaners received were the legal amount they were entitled to, if the contractor had the correct number of cleaners working in the garages, as they were obliged by law).
OSY could have got rid of the contractor months ago, due to the violations of the labour laws the contractor committed, paid the contractors’ debts to the bus cleaners and employed them directy. The bus company management could have used several laws to take these steps, but they chose not to do so.
Strike action pays
It is clear that if the bus cleaners were not determined to take long strike action and risk losing their jobs, they would still be working without getting paid. Due to their heroic and determined struggle, the cleaners will not only receive their salaries but they will receive the legal amount owing, 680 euro, and not 450 euro that the contractor previously underpaid them. In practice, this means a wage rise of about 50%.
It is also worth recalling that bus cleaners struggle begun in January, with the "rebellion" of the workers at one garage (Elliniko Garage), who went on a 10-day strike to claim three months unpaid wages and their Christmas bonus. The contractor attempted to break the strike by bringing in bus cleaners from other garages and by calling on the police. The bus cleaners did not back down and the contractor was forced to retreat and to pay the cleaners. That victory encouraged bus cleaners from other garages to also take strike action. The struggle spread from one garage to four, and from four to all seven garages during the final strike
However the bus cleaners’ struggle is not yet over. They will campaign for improvements in garage working conditions; the provision of basic protective equipment (gloves, masks, work shoes etc.,) and the provision of adequate cleaning equipment (bleach, clothe and trash bags, etc.).
The cleaners will also fight for an end to the workplace terror and impunity of their supervisors, and to be employed directly by the bus company, and putting an end to the contractor regime in public transport.