Unite urges Mayor’s involvement in Go North West dispute

Selwyn’s and Belle Vue Manchester among operators named to cover bus routes affected by strike

Trade union Unite has written to the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, requesting he intervene in a dispute over pay and work conditions at Go North West.

A strike is currently planned for Sunday 28 February if a solution is not found for the dispute.

The continuous all out strike action is planned over the company’s proposals to modernise working practices. Unite claims the plans to ‘fire and rehire’ its workforce will amount to a £2,500 cut for workers and slashed conditions including sick pay.

The modernisations to working practices are planned to be implemented to safeguard 600 jobs, the Go-Ahead-owned operator says. It reports it has losses of £1.8 million a year, which it says is a recurring deficit directly caused by outdated working practices. The new proposals will give drivers a £5,000 payment, plus two years’ of inflation-linked pay rises and guarantees of no redundancies. Although 80% of drivers voluntarily signed up to the package, Unite continues to oppose the changes.

Many of the working practices inherited at the Queens Road depot when Go North West took over it have been in use since the 1980s, including customs long since dropped by other bus companies.

Go North West drivers are still paid to rewind manual destination blinds on vehicles (buses have had digital displays since the end of the last century), are allocated what the operator describes as unnecessary ‘spare’ shifts with no work content and are allowed to curtail journeys (if necessary, asking passengers to leave the bus mid-destination) if they are late finishing a shift.

Go North West managing director, Nigel Featham, said: “Unite’s strike is completely unnecessary and will make life harder for key workers in the middle of a pandemic. We have stepped up and made contingency plans to lay on buses so that NHS workers can get to hospitals, teachers can get to schools and retail workers can get to essential shops. We are determined the travelling public don’t lose out.

“Changes to working practices proposed by Go North West will bring the company in line with terms standard across the industry and which Unite has already agreed at other bus companies. Unite has described Queens Road bus drivers as having ‘crown jewel’ conditions but unless these are modified to reflect the modern world, the business will continue to make heavy losses putting 600 jobs in serious doubt.

“I would like to apologise to our customers for any inconvenience they may be caused, and urge Unite to end this game of brinkmanship by halting the stoppage for the benefit of our community.”

Independent operators to fill in

In response to the strike threat, Go North West is to deploy contingency plans from Sunday to keep bus services running in Manchester.

Mindful that buses are predominantly used during the Covid-19 pandemic by essential workers carrying out critical jobs, Go North West has made arrangements to keep as much of its network as possible running during the planned strike.

Unite reports Go North West is subcontracting its routes to other smaller operators, including Selwyn’s and Belle Vue Manchester. It is also understood by the trade union that drivers will be brought in from beyond the Greater Manchester area, including from Wales.

Unite has urged the Mayor Andy Burnham to intervene as it says the buses which are set to be used do not have Covid-19 shields to protect drivers.

It also has concerns that an ‘alternative service’ could result in overcrowding and increased 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, it claims.

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.

“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.

“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.”

Go North West operates 130 buses on 30 routes in Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Trafford and Warrington.

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