Bus strike hits Barcelona

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November and December 2000 saw major strike action by bus drivers in Barcelona, who were seeking more full weekends off. The dispute was settled by an agreement that gives the drivers 13 full work-free weekends per year, plus three additional days off.

An agreement reached on 19 December 2000 put an end to a dispute between bus drivers and the management of Barcelona Metropolitan Transport (Transportes Metropolitanos de Barcelona, TMB), a public company that runs the city's buses and the underground railway. The conflict had gone on for weeks and had threatened to hit the city hard over Christmas and New Year.

The 2,200 bus drivers, representing most of those employed by TMB, were not protesting about wages but about free time. Up until now, drivers have never had a full weekend off, but only either Saturday or Sunday, coupled with Friday or Monday. They were asking for 16 full weekends off per year. After several days of bargaining, the management was willing to concede 12 weekends, which would be covered by hiring other drivers, and a few other advantages. The majority of the TMB workers' committee- with the opposition of the representatives of the General Confederation of Workers (Confederación General de Trabajadores, CGT) - accepted the proposal, but an assembly of drivers rejected it in the early hours of 21 November and called a strike.

The strike lasted until 26 November. There were new negotiations and a new threat of an uninterrupted strike between 22 December and 7 January, which would have caused serious disruptions to public transport. Finally, an agreement was reached by which the drivers obtained 13 full work-free weekends, three other working days off that may be added to public holidays, and increases in some bonuses. The company agreed to hire 280 new drivers and to buy 100 more vehicles.

The TMB conflict is seen by some observers as a typical labour dispute of the "leisure society". Many services have to be provided for an increasing number of hours at weekends, but workers in these services do not want this improvement for the general public to be achieved exclusively at their expense. New agreements will therefore have to consider the working conditions in these sectors, which will lead to an increase in public expenditure. The TMB agreement may be seen as a good precedent; while workers in the public transport sector accept that they cannot have as many free weekends as production workers, they are entitled to free time that can share with their families and friends. Employers, for their part, must arguably accept that this means an increase in costs, which in the case of public services is paid for by the public administration.

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