Unite has warned that Manchester bus operator Go North West appears to be more intent on monitoring every movement of their workers, than resolving the all-out bus strike which is due to begin this Sunday (28 February).
Over 400 bus drivers employed by Go North West, which is part of the Go Ahead group, returned an 82 per cent yes vote in favour of strike action against the company’s decision to fire and rehire them on vastly inferior pay and conditions.
As a result of the company failing to enter into negotiations Unite has announced an all-out continuous bus strike from Sunday 28 February which will cause considerable disruption throughout Greater Manchester and beyond.
Unite has subsequently learned that in response to the announcement the company is installing 80 new CCTV cameras at its Queens Road depot, even though it already has a considerable monitoring operation in place. It is understood that Go North West is investing £46,000 in the cameras despite claiming the depot is loss making and will close if drivers don’t accept the new inferior contracts.
Unite fears that the new cameras will be used by Go North West to excessively monitor and discipline drivers for minor misdemeanours such as breaching socially distancing rules.
The big brother instincts of Go North West are further highlighted as it has emerged that its managing director Nigel Featham has a screen on his desk solely linked to the CCTV camera monitoring the area where drivers are allowed to take smoking breaks at the Queens Road depot.
Alongside the CCTV frenzy, Go North West has been concentrating its energies on a series of misinformation campaigns rather than returning to the negotiating table and resolving the dispute.
Drivers at Go North West were particularly perturbed to read correspondence which claimed they had “volunteered” for the vastly inferior contracts. In reality the company had held a gun to the drivers’ heads and gave them just eight days to sign the new contract or be dismissed on the 8 May – a move Unite described as Go North West bullying and intimidating its workers.
Grievances submitted by drivers being bullied into signing the contracts have been dismissed out of hand by GNW who are refusing to hear drivers’ claims of bullying.
The strikes will inevitably cause a huge amount of disruption to commuters and passengers throughout the Greater Manchester area and beyond. Go North West operates 130 buses on 30 routes in Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Trafford and Warrington.
If Go North West’s fire and rehire proposals are implemented it will result in a 10 per cent cut in bus drivers; workers, who earn an average of £24,000 per annum, forced to work longer for no additional pay, resulting in them being £2,500 a year worse off; and tearing up the existing sick pay policy, which will force workers to work when they are sick or should be self-isolating during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite Go Ahead returning profits of £1bn in its most recent accounts and paying substantial dividends to its shareholders, the company has argued that its Queen’s Road Depot is uneconomic.
Go North West has been asked to open its books to independent auditors to verify its claims of the business being uneconomic – they have refused. Unite believes that the company has been economical with the true financial position of the business by not allowing independent scrutiny.
Unite entered into detailed cost saving negotiations with Go North West and agreed changes which would have generated savings of £1m and also accepted a 12 month pay freeze which was worth a further £200,000 to the company. However, this was deemed insufficient by Go North West and it withdrew from negotiations and decided to fire and rehire its workers instead.
Unite regional secretary Ritchie James said, “Go North West has revealed its true colours. The company is more interested in spying on its workers, trying to catch them out at every turn, than resolve this dispute.
“Bullying workers and their families to accept inferior terms of employment is not good industrial relations. The company is guilty of blackmailing workers in times of great uncertainty. It is undignified for the parent company to have £450m of ‘spare cash’ floating around and then plead poverty to justify intimidating and bullying its own employees.
“On the one hand the company is pleading poverty and then on the other it is spending tens of thousands on a CCTV camera frenzy.
“An all-out bus strike which will affect passengers across Greater Manchester is looming and will start in days. Yet Go North West is more interested in spreading misinformation about its members then resolving the dispute.
“Our members who have worked throughout the pandemic, ensuring key workers in Greater Manchester can get to and from work, are being rewarded for the dedication and commitment with huge pay cuts, which will mean that they and their families will struggle to make ends meet.
“Unite has been clear this strike can be averted providing Go North West withdraws its plans to fire and rehire its bus drivers and allow proper negotiations to take place.”
By Barckley Sumner