Unite, which represents over 400 bus drivers at Go North West, has written to the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham urging him to intervene, having becoming increasingly alarmed at the company’s plans to continue to run services when strikes begin.
The bus drivers will begin continuous all-out strike action from this Sunday (February 28) in a dispute over the company’s plans to fire and rehire its workforce. This will amount to a £2,500 cut for workers and slashed conditions including sick pay.
Rather than seek a negotiated settlement to avoid the strike, Unite has learned that Go North West is instead seeking to run an alternative service.
Unite understands that Go North West is subcontracting its routes to other smaller bus companies, including Selwyn’s and Belle Vue coaches.
It is also understood that as part of the ‘alternative bus service’ drivers will be brought in from beyond the Greater Manchester area, including from Wales.
Unite has urged the Mayor Andy Burnham to intervene as the buses which are set to be used do not have the Covid-19 shields that protect the drivers from potential Covid exposure from passengers.
There are also concerns that an ‘alternative service’ could result in overcrowding and increase exposure risks. Additionally, bringing in drivers from beyond the northern Greater Manchester area will increase the risk of the virus being transmitted inside and outside the area.
Unite understands that Go North West’s ‘alternative service’ will require the approval of the Greater Manchester Transport Committee in order to operate, as it amounts to sub-contracting Go North West’s routes.
Unite has also raised serious concerns with the Welsh government, which has effectively closed the border between England and Wales, as it believes that this is not essential travel.
Unite North West regional secretary Ritchie James said, “Rather than seek a solution to the dispute, Go North West is instead intent on creating a health crisis.
“Rates of Covid-19 infections remain far too high and Go North West’s ‘alternative service’ lack the essential protections that Unite has ensured are in place on its normal fleet of buses,” he added.
“During a lockdown it is simply reckless to be unnecessarily bringing workers in and out of the area, as it will inevitably result in an increase in infections.
“It is imperative that Andy Burnham intervenes and makes it clear that this ‘alternative service’ does not have his blessing or support.
“My message to passengers thinking about using the ‘alternative service’ is to consider if this is the safest way of making your journey,” James went on to say.
“The forthcoming strike action is being taken reluctantly by our members, especially during the pandemic. However, they feel they have no other option after Go North West introduced its brutal fire and rehire plans.
“Even at this eleventh hour strikes can still be averted by Go North West withdrawing its fire and rehire plans and entering into meaningful negotiations.”
When the all-out strike action begins on Sunday 28 February Unite will be mounting strictly socially distanced, Covid secure picket lines at the company’s Queens Road depot (Cheetham Hill, Manchester M8 8UT).
Go North West operates 130 buses on 30 routes in Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Trafford and Warrington.
By Barckley Sumner