"We are not dogs!"
LONDON Mayor Boris Johnson will have to face some dogged questions when he and a couple of acomplices come to Hendon next Tuesday. The Mayor and his Transport Deputy, Isabel Dedring, are due to participate in a "Talk London" panel being held in Simpson Hall, at the Peel Centre on Aerodrome Road, Colindale. Barnet and Camden Greater London Assembly member Brian Coleman, who is also a Barnet councillor, is acting as chair.
Talk London is inviting people to ask questions about "investing in London". The trades unionists and campaigners coming to confront Boris and chums want to know what they are doing about investing in the people who provide essential services for the capital, ennabling its commercial and cultural activities to function. They want to raise the issue of facilities for their essential functions.
Not far from where Broris and co. are speaking, Brent Cross shopping centre boasts 120 stores, a huge car park, and a bus station with four stands served by several routes, some ranging from Barnet (326) Ealing (112), Finsbury Park (210), Hammersmith (266), Harrow Weald (182), Oxford Circus (189) and Watford (142). Besides acting as a terminus for the shopping centre, Brent Cross bus station is an important place for changing buses if you want to cross north London. I sometimes went this way from Stonebridge to Turnpike Lane when I had friends in Tottenham. Also to attend Peter Fryer's funeral at Islington cemetery which is in East Finchley.
Four bus companies use Brent Cross, under the overall aegis of Transport for London (TfL). But outside shopping hours, when the centre is shut, the bus station is lacking in vital facilities.
The "We are not Dogs" Campaign which intends to lobby Boris Johnson is protesting against the closure of the Brent Cross toilet and for decent toilet and messroom facilities for the bus drivers. In a statement it says:
"For years now Transport for London has treated Brent Cross drivers like dogs. They close the only toilet the male and female drivers have at the slightest excuse and force both sexes to use the bushes near the Brent River to relieve themselves when the Centre is closed. A driver was fined £80 for this last year at the Spires in Barnet because he had to use the bushes. The health and safety implications are obvious; must we wait until a woman is raped or killed to expose these shocking social attitudes from TfL?
"Since 28th November they have closed the toilet three times (25 out of 37 days on 4 January), and say it cannot be opened now until February. TfL are threatening to close it permanently unless “we” stop misusing it – just because some unknownperson, driver, member of the public or even a TfL official has carved swastikas on the wall we are “all” not responsible enough to be given this basic human right! The toilets have been fully functional during all this time, only closed to “teach you a lesson” as one official put it.
"A driver asked TfL official Mick Foley why he kept the fully functional toilet closed on New Year's Day when the drivers had nowhere else to go because Brent Cross Shopping Centre was closed? He said 'I know it is fully functional, Gerry. You will have to do something about it'
"So he knows of the petition and our complaints to the GLA members and he is laughing at us. They will close that toilet at random (apparently the graffiti now is a Christmas tree) and there is absolutely nothing the drivers can do about it, they are all totally confident.
"TfL closed the toilet at Turnpike Lane station for months also citing graffiti. An elderly driver from Ponders End garage on the 221 route arrived there late at night desperate and began to wet himself when he found it closed. He relieved himself into a bottle to make less mess. TfL forwarded the CCTV of his humiliation to his garage and they sacked him for it. Apparently these TfL officials enjoy their sadistic "right"to humiliate drivers like this all over London".
1. The toilet be opened immediately and kept open while it is functional.
2. The present unventilated fly infested broom cupboard “mess room” is converted into expanded toilet facilities, properly ventilated and available at all times for the drivers.
3. A Muslim shower and prayer area. As the Qur'an advises Muslims to uphold high standards of physical hygiene and to be ritually clean whenever possible, bathrooms should be equipped with a Muslim shower situated next to the toilet, so that individuals may wash themselves. This ablution is required in order to maintain ritual cleanliness.
4. Proper mess room facilities for the 70 odd drivers who have to take their meal breaks at Brent Cross, either a room within the Centre or a portacabin with drinks machine, television and rest facilities. We cannot wait for 5 or 7 years for the new Centre, as they tell us, only to be put in another broom cupboard.
London Mayor Boris Johnson is holding one of his "TalkLondon" events in Barnet on Tuesday 17 January. We intend to hand our “We are not dogs” petition signed by as many bus drivers as possible to the Mayor at this meeting. As many busdrivers as possible need to attend this picket and meeting in uniform and ask as many questions of the Mayor as we can:
● Why do you punish all drivers for the graffiti of one?
● How can you make 70 drivers take their meal breaks at an unventilated, fly-infested converted broom cupboard?
● Why can they not afford to give us decent toilet facilities from the hundreds if not thousands of millions of pounds the customers we bring to Brent Cross spend at the Centre?
● Why do professional drivers get treated like dogs in 2012 in this ‘great city’ showcasing the Olympics?"
It seems that TfL officials are now claiming that damage to the toilets was worse than thought, and that closure was needed before contractors could put it right. One even quoted a figure of £5,000, which the drivers very much doubt. Oddly enough I hear that when Brent and Harrow GLA member Navin Shah visited the bus station and asked to see the damage for himself, the TfL officials would not permit this elected representative to access the toilet.
Who do these officials think they are? Who gave them the right to treat an older worker the way that man was at Turnpike Lane, and get away with it? Maybe they should adopt the swastika from graffiti to serve as TfL management logo, if this is how they treat the workers and our elected representatives.
Navin Shah has given his support to the workers, and Ken Livingstone, who is hoping to be returned to the mayor's job for Labour has added his name to the drivers' petition. Barnet trades union council is supporting the drivers campaign, as is Brent, and I assume my union Unite which represents most bus drivers will taking up the issue with TfL. At least I hope so.
The We Are Not Dogs campaign will be out next Tuesday, January 17 from 18.00 to 19.00 at
All welcome who support the workers and basic human rghts.
Incidentally, Tory councillor and GLA member Brian Coleman is better known for taking taxis than for taking an interest in bus services or workers' conditions. But he is very keen on a more ambitious waste disposal project at Brent Cross. Maybe we'll hear this too raised on Tuesday.