Bus drivers employed by Go North West voted overwhelmingly in favour of an agreement with their employer, ending the 85-day strike. After a bitter dispute over pay and working conditions lasting nearly a year, the two sides reached a deal last weekend, which the drivers accepted on Monday.
Go North West bus drivers employed at Queens Road had been on strike since 28 February, in dispute against the company’s so-called “fire and rehire” practices. The strike was both the longest in the history of Unite, and the longest in recent history for the entire passenger transport sector, Unite said in a press release.
Go North West bus driver dispute – click here to find out more
- 23 March 2020 – Go North West announces Reset 2020, a plan to stem the company’s annual losses of £1.8 million at Queen Road Depot.
- May 2020 – As part of the plan, Go North West offers drivers a one-off payment of £5,000 in return for altering the terms and conditions of their employment. The company gives drivers until 12 August to accept the offer.
- 12 August – Go North West drivers ballot on industrial action after Go North West suspends Unite branch chairman and union representative, Colin Hayden.
- 14 August – Go North West issues a Section 188 notice on bus drivers.
- 24 September – Go North West pauses the re-employment process kickstarted by the Section 188 notice after Unite general secretary Len McCluskey weighs in on the dispute. Talks begin between Go North West and Unite.
- 16 January – Go North West withdraws from talks.
- 18 January – Go North West begins consulting drivers individually.
- 10 February – Unite drivers vote to take strike action against Go North West from 28th February.
- 8 May – Unite strikes an agreement with Go Ahead Group, providing a framework for negotiations to take place between Unite North West and Go North West.
Go Ahead Group (Go North West’s parent company) and the London office of Unite, the trade union representing the drivers, negotiated an agreement on 8 May. This provided a framework for further negotiations between Unite North West and Go North West to hash out the finer details of a deal.
Drivers then voted on the deal at a meeting on Monday, where 78% of members present voted for accepting it. So what’s in the deal?
No more fire and rehire
Unite says the deal contains a promise in writing from both Go North West and Go Ahead Group that they will not use fire and rehire in future.
“It is a massive win,” Sam Harvey, a bus driver and communications representative for the Unite Manchester branch, told The Meteor. “We have ended fire and rehire. I understand that Go Ahead Group has said that its practices amounted to fire and rehire, that they were sorry, and that they would not use it again throughout the entire group.”
Drastically reduced but still intact. Unite says that before the dispute Go North West drivers had been entitled to anywhere between £9,000 annual sick pay. Go North West allegedly wanted to scrap sick pay entirely. Unite says it managed to claw back £8,784 a year so that drivers only lost out on £260 a year.
Unite says it secured a pay rise for its members; a 2% pay rise with immediate effect plus a one off payment of £1,500 in a month’s time and a 2% pay rise in April 2022.
This is a big win for the drivers. In August, Go North West had offered drivers a one-off payment of £5,000 in return for altering the terms and conditions of their employment.
Unite said the changes would have reduced members’ wages by around £2,000 a year, meaning that they would be worse off within three years.
Drivers will retain control of rosters (or rotas). This is a big win because drivers’ lives are built around rosters. Tearing up these frameworks would have given Go North West bosses lots of control over drivers.
Go North West also has what is known as a “service rota” for long term employees. “It is basically guarantees shifts Monday to Friday,” Sam explains. “You get given it as an award for years of service. It takes 20 years to get on the service rota in ordinary circumstances.”
Three bus drivers told The Meteor Go North West had been using the service rota during the strike to incentivise bus drivers to accept their new contracts on an individual basis, in effect crossing the picket line.
“We had one-to-one meetings, where we were not allowed union representation,” Sam says. “It was done on a first come first served basis. So if you had meetings before somebody else you could get first dibs on what roster you worked on. So after the London agreement we spent a lot of time trying to do the rosters so they’re done fairly.”
Len Newnham who has been a bus driver at Queens Road Depot since 1966 said. “The people up at Pilsworth got first preference on rotas. There was one lad who had been working here for 15 months who got put on the service rota, while the ex-chairman of this branch who’s been here for 45 years was taken off it. Where’s the fairness in that?”
Marianne Topp, another driver, agreed. “The service rota basically was a reward for going against us and being loyal to them.”
The drivers also allege Nigel Featham, Go North West’s managing director, reneged on commitments of letting Unite reps decide on rotas just before it went to a vote among members.
“There were no rotas, or rosters or lines in our agreement,” Marianne said. “‘What are we voting on?’ I asked the meeting on Friday, ‘How can we vote on something we have not seen’?”
Go North West did not respond to the accusation that Featham had reneged on commitments relating to rosters at the last minute when asked by The Meteor.
Go North West’s response
In a comment, Nigel Featham, Managing Director of Go North West, said:
“We are pleased to confirm the end of all industrial action at the Queens Road depot in Manchester. A new collective agreement has been reached. This positive outcome for the depot, its employees and stakeholders follows a period of intense and productive negotiations between senior representatives of Go-Ahead and Unite.
“The deal agreed enables the introduction of revised working practices under a new Collective Agreement providing a solid foundation on which to build a sustainable future for the depot.
Go North West now looks forward to building a positive working environment for all colleagues at Queens Road and continuing to improve services for our customers and communities.”
And the drivers?
Drivers told The Meteor they were “relieved” that the deal had passed, and staged a celebration at the depot on Tuesday 18 May. They were also very grateful for public support.Len said: “It was never about money. It was about fire and rehire. We were on strike for terms and conditions. I think the general public understood that.”
Marianne said: “If they can do it here, other bus companies will do it. This fight wasn’t just about us, it wasn’t just about our families, it wasn’t even just about Nigel. It was about stopping this from happening to every UK citizen in future.
“The fact is in the law we are better than this, we deserve better than this. Our grandparents, our great-grandparents, would literally curdle if they saw what was going on, where an employer could turn around and say, if you don’t give up everything you’ve got I’m going to fire you and there’s nothing you can do about it. It shouldn’t be happening.”
Sam said: “The message from this strike is that the law might not be on your side. But if a little depot in Manchester can bring an international giant to its knees, and make them pledge never to use fire and rehire again, you can do it too. You’ve just to band together, stand together and fight.”
Feature Image: Unite the Union.