Stop the Go North West fire and rehire
Bus drivers at Go North West in Manchester started all-out strike action on 28 February to stop an attack on their pay and conditions. They’ve been forced to defend themselves after being bullied into signing new contracts to work longer hours on the same pay, lost sick pay and accept wage cuts of £2,500 a year and lost sick pay. The alternative was to be sacked.
This is called fire and rehire.
Their families can’t afford these cuts, and after risking their lives to make sure essential workers could get to work during the crisis, they shouldn’t have to.
OUR STRIKE Q&A
Go North West (GNW) would rather run a series of misinformation campaigns than resolve this dispute. We set the record straight.
Why are Go North West bus drivers on strike?
Over recent months, talks between GNW and Unite have been ongoing over GNW’s plans to save £1.8 million as part of a turnaround plan for the Queens Road depot. Their proposals have been aimed solely at drivers and include an increase in unpaid working and cuts to sick pay. Through discussion, we have offered over £1 million worth of savings, which include changes to some working practices and the sick pay scheme. Unfortunately, GNW withdrew from talks in January – they want the drivers to meet the cost reductions in full and would not compromise. Instead of continuing the talks with Unite, GNW called all drivers to a 1:1 meeting, denied them the ability to be accompanied by a Unite Rep and presented them with new contracts which they had to sign within seven days or be served notice of dismissal.
Unite had no option but to ballot our members for industrial action - 82% of the drivers voted for strike action, which clearly shows the level of anger at GNW’s behaviour.
What exactly are the changes being made to drivers’ contracts?
GNW has introduced the new contracts in order to save money and they expect the drivers to lose out. The new contracts include:
- A 10% cut in bus driver numbers.
- Working longer hours for the same pay - drivers could work up to three more hours a week for the same pay, costing them up to £2,500 a year in lost wages.
- Reduced sick pay - replacing the existing policy will reduce sick pay for some drivers which could force them to work when they should be at home. During Covid, this is irresponsible.
What GNW has instigated is a ‘race to the bottom’ on the drivers’ terms and conditions because they think this will help them win more contracts and routes in the future.
Will jobs be cut?
Yes. There are concerns that the new contracts will lead to a 10% reduction in bus driver numbers required in the Queens Road Depot – up to 50 drivers would find themselves displaced.
Are drivers facing wage cuts?
Yes. The company’s new contracts and the tearing up of their existing terms and conditions will leave your drivers £2,500 a year worse off.
Is there a concern over work / life balance?
Absolutely. Under the new contracts, drivers could work up to three hours more a week for the same pay. This is a lot more than the 20-25 minutes claimed by GNW, and could lead to drivers working a total of up to 1,500 additional hours a week unpaid. Drivers are extremely concerned about the impact this will have on the time they spend with their families.
Are Go North West drivers among the ‘very best paid’ in the region?
No, absolutely not. They are paid £24,000 a year, which is comparable to other companies in the Greater Manchester area, but not across the North West Region.
What is a S188 notice and why did Go North West issue one?
When an employer wants to make 20 or more people redundant within 90 days, S188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act states that they must consult “appropriate representatives”, eg the trade union. Go North West issued a S188 because it wanted to dismiss their drivers and then re-engage them on new contracts with the new inferior terms.
Is this the same as fire and rehire”?
Absolutely 100% the same. GNW told their drivers that if they refused to sign up to the new contracts on a voluntary basis, they would be fired and then re-hired on the new contracts if they wanted to keep their jobs.
Shouldn’t the drivers just be happy they still have a job?
Like many other key workers, these bus drivers have risked their own health and lives by working throughout the pandemic. They’ve kept Manchester moving, but the thanks they get from GNW is to threaten them with the sack if they don’t sign the new contracts. These are not even temporary changes to help the company get through Covid – these are permanent changes which will impact upon the drivers and their families. Worse still, GNW’s parent company (The Go Ahead Group) made £1 billion (according to their most recent accounts) from its bus division – why should the drivers lose out when the Group is so cash rich?
Don’t forget too that the Go Ahead Group (including GNW) have received millions of pounds in Government money (taxpayers’ money) to help them during Covid.
Why strike? Why not negotiate?
We’ve been negotiating with the company for months and thought we were making good progress. At our last meeting before Christmas, GNW said it was the best meeting we’d held. We were therefore both surprised and disappointed when the company withdrew from talks in January. We were ready to continue talking – the company walked away.
What about outdated working practices like “blind time”?
Drivers don’t change the blinds anymore, but “blind time” also includes other jobs that the driver still needs to do. Of course they don’t need paying for a task they don’t carry out, but Covid and security issues have resulted in more tasks being required.
The £5,000 – doesn’t that compensate the drivers for what they’ll be losing?
We’ve never asked for this £5,000 and have said that it should be invested into the depot. It totals £2.5 million which is more than the £1.8 million that GNW wish to save.
Is fire and rehire legal?
More companies than ever are now using the cover of Covid to rip up workers' contracts, with 1 in 10 UK workers threatened with fire and rehire during the pandemic. As fire and rehire has become more widespread, it’s become discredited as people have realised what it actually means. Just look at British Airways and British Gas as two examples. Unite is campaigning to get this unfair practice outlawed. Read more here: unitetheunion.org/campaigns/stop-fire-and-rehire