'We will not allow our reps to be bullied'

Manchester bus workers to hold consultative ballot on industrial action, as rep suspended for carrying out trade union duties

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About 500 Manchester bus drivers will hold a consultative ballot on whether they want to take industrial action after a senior Unite rep at bus company Go North West Limited was suspended for carrying out legitimate trade union activities.

Unite said that the ballot follows the suspension of the rep, who is also a Unite branch chair, as the union highlighted plans to reduce the wages of 500 Manchester bus drivers by an estimated £2,000-a-year.

The company has attempted to railroad changes to the terms and conditions of the bus drivers – while 80 per cent of the drivers, including all of the Unite reps except for the senior rep, were furloughed – via the offer of a one-off payment of £5,000.

Unite, however, says that within three years its members would be worse off, if the plan were allowed to go-ahead.

Unite said that the suspension was sanctioned by Go North West Limited managing director Nigel Featham. The union has called for the senior rep’s immediate reinstatement.

Unite regional officer Steve Davies said, “Preparations for the consultative ballot are underway following talks yesterday (Wednesday 12 August) with managing director Nigel Featham.

“It was pointed out to him that the allegation against the Unite senior rep was totally without merit and his suspension was an attempt to undermine Unite from representing the legitimate interests of its members.

“The suspension of our senior shop steward is a ham-fisted attempt at weakening and undermining the confidence of drivers by trashing industrial relations with Unite,” he added.

“We believe that Nigel Featham’s reckless ‘bull in a china shop’ actions are now the biggest threat to the business and its profitability.

“We will not allow our elected workplace representatives to be bullied and have their livelihood threatened, nor will we allow forced changes on the workforce.

“We have tried, as a matter of courtesy, to contact the Go Ahead Group nationally to ensure that its top executives fully understood the extent of the industrial vandalism being enacted by the local managing director in Manchester which should not be allowed to continue,” Davies went on to say.

“There are formal complaints against managers already registered with the company of a serious nature; however, no suspensions have taken place and the process of investigating these complaints appears to have been blocked.

“The suspension of the senior rep coincides with the company’s deadline for accepting changes with the £5,000 buyout which ended yesterday.

“The costs of Go Ahead drivers are neither excessive nor cause problems for the business. It is expenditure from other areas of the business which have been loaded onto its bus driver operations that are the problem.”

Unite said that the working practices at the Queens Road depot which the company wants to buy-out have since been replaced by additional cleaning and cash collection duties which mean the bus drivers are working just as hard.

The consultative ballot will be held by the end of the month. Whether Unite proceeds to a full-scale industrial action ballot, including the option for strike action, depends on the outcome of the consultative vote.

By Shaun Noble

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