Strike continues amid harassment reports

Industrial action by Go North West staff continues amid reports of unruly behaviour and harassment by people believed to be associated with the striking bus-workers.

Industrial action is being taken by some employees of the Go-Ahead-owned operation in Manchester over proposed changes to working practices. The latest peace talks between the company’s management and trade union Unite have so far reached no agreement.

A BBC news report shared on Go North West’s YouTube channel documented some of the abusive behaviour:

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The video features Bobby Morton from Unite, who distanced Unite members from committing any anti-social behaviour described in it and emphasised its members have not been instructed to commit the damaging actions.

In a stakeholder update, Nigel Featham, Managing Director at Go North West, said: “As the weeks have passed, incidents of intimidation and harassment have unfortunately increased. Our employees and contractors have faced verbal and physical abuse. Drivers’ front doors have been scrawled with graffiti. In one case, the partner of a driver was pursued outside her home by an activist on a motorbike hurling abuse about her working husband. On another, a driver was physically assaulted onboard a bus. Working drivers have had their cars vandalised.

“The company has appealed for calm and for the focus to be on finding a negotiated settlement on the changes needed to keep the depot open.”

The dispute between Go North West and Unite union members is over proposed pay and work practice changes. The operator says the changes have been necessary at its Queens Road depot in Manchester due to ongoing losses of £1.8 million a year, which it says is a recurring deficit directly caused by outdated working practices. It said 80% of drivers agreed to the new plan voluntarily.

Go North West says changes to be made include altering shift patterns leading to longer lunch breaks but adding a few extra minutes to the working week. Other issues being addressed with these changes include drivers still being paid to wind manual display blinds, even though these have long since been replaced by digital displays; what the operator describes as ‘over-generous’ walking times it believes reduces time spent driving buses; as well as drivers being able to prematurely curtail journeys, sometimes asking passengers to leave the bus, if they are late finishing a shift. No jobs will be lost under the proposals.

Nigel Featham said: “Without these improvements, the business, and operation of bus services from Queens Road, is unviable. The future of the depot and its 600 jobs are at stake.”

Disruption has been almost non-existent for passengers, Nigel Featham reports in the stakeholder update. Independent operators have been contracted to create a stand-in network. Despite claims by Unite that the replacement services are not operating in a safe manner, the operator has ensured all contractors are fully Covid-compliant.

While commenting on the Greater Manchester bus franchising announcement, Unite the Union claimed the operator is using what it described as ‘bully boy fire and rehire tactics’. The claim has been refuted by Go North West.

Unite North West regional secretary, Ritchie James, said: “Unite has tried to resolve this dispute through negotiations and put forward over £1.3 million of savings proposals, but Go North West deemed this insufficient.

“As a result of the failure of the talks Unite will be stepping up its campaign to ensure that Go North West drops its plans to fire and rehire its loyal workers.

“Bus drivers who have kept working throughout the pandemic, risking their health and that of their families, deserve better than this.

“Manchester’s passengers deserve better than this, Go North West is forcing them to use its dangerous rogue bus service, where the risk of Covid transmission is greatly increased and where numerous other regulations are breached or ignored.

“It is essential that everyone in Greater Manchester speaks with one voice, from passengers, to local politicians and condemns this sickening use of fire and rehire that Go North West is utilising to make workers poorer and boost its profits.

“Unite has repeatedly attempted to resolve this dispute through negotiation and it is prepared to continue to do so, but Go North West will now have to bring fresh proposals to the table.”

Go North West reports nearly a third of drivers have returned to work since the dispute began.

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