Coach operators brought into Manchester dispute

Coach operators have been named by trade union Unite as it makes unsafe-practice claims about a replacement bus service in Manchester.

Go North West is attempting to repel claims by trade union Unite that a replacement service network it has put in place is operating in breach of safety regulations.

The move is the latest development in an ongoing dispute over pay and working practice changes at Go North West’s Queens Road depot in Manchester.

The dispute concerns proposals to modernise working practices at the depot which have been put forward by Go North West in order to secure the future of 600 jobs by stemming the company’s annual losses of £1.8 million. Under a program called RESET, Go North West drivers are being offered £5,000 payments, plus two years of inflation-linked pay rises and guarantees of no redundancies in return for amendments to their terms. More than 80% of drivers have volunteered to sign up for these changes.

However, Unite opposes the new work practice and pay packages. As a result, over 400 bus drivers have been on all-out, continuous strike action since 28 February.

The Go-Ahead-owned operator has put in place replacement services while its employees are on strike. Independent operators are being subcontracted to run these services, which Bus and Coach Buyer understands are being used by over 100,000 passengers per week.

Unite claims these services are being operated at dangerously overcrowded levels. While taking strike action, Go North West bus drivers have been compiling a dossier on what the union describes as the safety failings of the replacement bus services.

The alleged failings include: overcrowding and ignoring reduced capacity rules to prevent Covid-19 transmissions, allowing passengers to stand (often close to the driver), a failure to tape-off seats around drivers, a complete absence of screens to protect drivers from Covid transmission and a failure to properly seal screens if they were in place. Unite said it has sent the dossier to the DVSA and the North West Travel Commissioner.

The dossier details problems with the sub-contracted vehicles being operated by B and N Coaches, Connexions Buses, Edwards Coaches, Orion Travel, Red Rose, Selwyns, Swans, The Big Coach Company, The Travellers Choice and Tyrers Coaches.

“All sub-contractors have carried out Covid-19 risk assessments and are fully compliant” – Go North West spokesperson

A Go North West spokesman said: “It’s depressing to see Unite attempt to weaponise public health safety. If the union genuinely cared about passengers’ wellbeing, it wouldn’t call a strike in the middle of a pandemic and it would encourage its members to return to work.

“People travelling by bus during lockdown are making essential journeys, and many of them are key workers. It is our responsibility to get them where they need to be and, with Unite insisting on taking indefinite industrial action, that means we have been obliged to bring in contractors. All sub-contractors have carried out Covid-19 risk assessments and are fully compliant. We are at a loss to understand why strike supporters wish to deprive key workers of vital public transport.

“In all cases, vehicles and drivers meet strict DVSA criteria and services are accessible by wheelchair users.”

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