The treatment of a driver, who worked for the official Gatwick Airport taxi firm, is ‘the tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to working practices at the company, Unite, the country’s largest union, has said.
Unite is supporting Michael Sweeney, a self-employed taxi driver who has worked at the airport since 1996 and has been refused work by Airport Cars Gatwick (ACG), the union said, for carrying out his legitimate duties as a union rep.
Unite said that Gatwick Airport Ltd (GAL) was ‘turning a blind eye’ to the activities of ACG because it was receiving a handsome sum from the company after it won the contract at the airport in 2011.
Unite regional officer Jen Parker said: “The treatment of Michael Sweeney is the tip of the iceberg at ACG which has a very anti-union stance. We are calling for Michael’s immediate reinstatement, and, if that does not, happen, we will be taking legal action.”
Unite pinpoints two incidents that led to Michael Sweeney being refused work by the company from 25 May this year.
Jen Parker added: “In March, ACG wanted to increase the commission rate which drivers paid from 21 to 23 per cent. Many members disagreed with this move and Michael vigorously campaigned against this added financial burden
“During this period, ACG was using its representatives to encourage drivers not to speak out and to sign up to these changes. When Michael went into the drivers’ rest room, another driver, who is associated with ACG’s driver reps, was visibly trying to coerce other drivers to sign up to allow the increase to go-ahead.
“ACG then decided it would discipline Michael as the other driver had given an exaggerated account accusing Michael of alleged bullying, which we strongly refute.
“When I represented Michael at the disciplinary hearing, another spurious allegation was added, relating to an incident when Michael raised with booking staff threatening language being used to a child by a member of the public at Gatwick Airport.
“Basically, it’s all been a stitch up to not give Michael any more work. His invitation to the disciplinary actually stated that as he was a representative he would be dealt with more harshly.
“We have tried everything we can to get Michael reinstated to receive work, but Gatwick Airport management is adamant it will not get involved.
“This seems to be because ACG has been able to attract more customers than the previous franchise holder, which inevitably means the airport getting a higher income.”
Unite said problems for the drivers started as soon as ACG took over the franchise in 2011. It then informed the drivers they had to have black Mercedes limo type cars or the equivalent, at that time most drivers had Ford Mondeos or the equivalent. It also wanted other costly changes.
As a result, a procedural agreement was introduced under the auspices of the conciliation service Acas to deal with future problems, but Unite said that the airport management, a signatory to the Acas-brokered agreement, was ‘turning a blind eye’ to Michael Sweeney’s case.
Support for Michael’s reinstatement has come from the Labour leader of Crawley borough council Cllr. Peter Lamb and more than 50 signatories from other Unite branches at the airport.
Notes to editors:
Self-employed drivers working for ACG at Gatwick have to provide their own car, insurance, road tax and servicing of their vehicles, as well as ‘official’ clothing of black trousers and white shirt. The only item that ACG provides is a tie.
For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on: 020 3371 2065
Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1 Web: unitetheunion.org
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.