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Triumph in solidarity

Bradford bus drivers’ dispute successfully resolved
Mark Metcalf, Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

Following a two-day strike in April, Unite bus drivers in Bradford prepared for further strike action against their employer First Group last week over jobs losses and attacks to terms and conditions.



But the action was suspended on Friday (June 12) after talks lead to a breakthrough agreement accepted by members.



In a resounding success for Unite’s bus members, First Group management has agreed to conduct meaningful negotiations with the union in the event of proposed major changes to core routes.



To accommodate meal breaks on mixed rota shifts, management has further agreed to in-creased hours and will also be reviewing cashing in time by drivers at the end of each shift. In a related development, two of three Unite reps who were suspended on purportedly false charges have been reinstated.



UniteLive spoke to Unite officials involved in the dispute, who attributed the successful agreement to members demanding their rights in solidarity.



First walk out in 16 years



377 drivers walked out for 48 hours on April 27, after the 576 bus service was transferred to the nearby Halifax depot with the alleged loss of eight jobs.



Union-management relations had historically been very good. But when management acted without reference to the union, members were determined to reassert their negotiating rights.



“We felt we had no other option except to take strike action. It was our first walk out in six-teen years,” said local Unite branch secretary Mohammad Taj (pictured), who has also previously served as TUC president.



Hundreds mounted lively picket lines round the clock which ensured just three drivers crossed.



Other members of the community acted in solidarity, including a lorry driver who dropped off parts he was delivering outside the bus depot gates. Postal workers refused to deliver the mail and even two police officers, seeking to collect CCTV evidence of a potential crime, refused to cross.



Council leader David Green, a Unite member himself, attended in support, as did local MPs Imran Hussain and Naz Shah.



“We were delighted with the response of the members and they showed great solidarity and the picket lines were certainly entertaining,” said branch vice president Mohammed Qamer Shafi (pictured), who was also one of the three reps who had been suspended.



The strike action disrupted the bus schedule with only a handful of buses running.



“We are sad our action meant some of our loyal customers were inconvenienced but we felt that our display of unity means that services in Bradford are more likely to be properly maintained in the long run,” Taj explained.



Members’ resolve



On bus drivers’ return to work after the April walk-out, the company approached Unite to discuss members’ concerns. But when negotiations again broke down earlier this month, the union threatened eight days of consecutive strike action – a move backed in a ballot by a 90 per cent majority on an 80 per cent turnout.



“The vote showed the strength of feeling amongst our members,” said Shafi.



The company again invited the union to negotiate with them and discussions took place earlier last week, concluding in an agreement satisfactory to both sides.



“The company has agreed to properly negotiate with us if they intend changing any core routes,” noted Taj.



“They have also made a series of concessions to improve the terms and conditions of drivers including the new starters,” he added.



In response to Unite’s concerns that the company was not investing in the service and the workforce, First Bus has also agreed that it will employ 12 more drivers to ensure it has a full complement of staff and has moreover agreed to invest up to £2 million in purchasing 12 new buses.



“Two suspended reps are now back at work and we are fighting to get Taj Salam, our branch president and chair of the Unite national passenger sector, back to work. Members feel strongly about this,” said Taj.


Shafi hailed the solidarity members showed as the dispute unfolded.


“We are pleased with the final outcome, which was only made possible by the resolve of Unite members, who are also grateful for the support they received from the union region-ally and nationally,” he said.


Picture by Mark Harvey


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