Manchester Go Ahead bus drivers ‘bullied and intimidated' with sack threat in fire and rehire dispute

Unite, the UK’s leading union, has accused management at Go North West of attempting to intimidate workers into signing vastly inferior contracts. Unite expressed outrage at the company’s behaviour, after management hand-delivered letters to affected workers informing them of the date of their dismissal if they refused to sign the new contracts.

Strike ballot

Unite is currently balloting its members for strike action, in a dispute over the company’s plans to fire and rehire its entire workforce. The ballot will close today (Tuesday 9 February).

The letter, received by drivers who have refused to sign the new vastly inferior contracts, said that if they do not sign the new contract then “Go North West is issuing you with notice of the termination of your employment, which shall end on 8 May 2021”.

Short notice

In an attempt to put further pressure on workers, Go North West has said for “planning and processing purposes” they only have until 10:00 on 16 February 2021 (8 days) to accept the new contract, otherwise “if not accepted, it will be automatically withdrawn”.

If Go North West’s fire and rehire proposals are implemented it will result in:

  • A 10 per cent cut in bus drivers
  • Workers, who earn an average of £24,000 per annum, forced to work longer for no additional pay, resulting in them being £2,500 a year worse off
  • Tearing up the existing sick pay policy, which will force workers to work when they are sick or should be self-isolating during the COVID-19 pandemic 

Covid concerns

Aside from the mental and emotional trauma the letter has caused to the affected members, Unite is highly concerned about the manner in which it has been distributed and is investigating whether the hand-delivering of the letters broke the company’s own COVID protocols or national lockdown measures.

The issue of complying with COVID rules is particularly sensitive, as bus drivers in the UK on among the groups of workers at greatest risk of dying from COVID-19.

Cynical actions 

Unite regional secretary Ritchie James said: “This is a cynical attempt by managers at Go North West to intimidate and bully workers and their families into accepting these inferior terms. 

“It is simply deplorable that Go North West thinks it is acceptable to send its managers scurrying around Greater Manchester and beyond, hand-delivering threatening letters at a time the country is locked down to prevent the spread of COVID.

“Rather than negotiate with Unite to find a solution acceptable to all sides, Go North West has instead placed its energies into threatening its own workers with the sack.

“Bus drivers at Go Ahead have been keeping Manchester operating throughout the pandemic and have risked their health and that of their families in doing so. It is simply despicable that they are being treated in this manner.

“Unite is investigating if COVID laws were broken by the completely unnecessary decision to hand-deliver these letters and if so it will be contacting the relevant authorities.”

Prepared to negotiate

Unite was involved in detailed negotiations with Go North West, about how to make savings at its Queens Road Depot, until the company ended talks. Unite had proposed a million pounds worth of savings and additionally agreed to a year-long pay freeze (worth a further £200,000) but this was deemed insufficient by Go North West’s management.