Bus dispute over by mid-May?

Flashback to January last year when striking drivers manned the picket line at Bank's Circus in Douglas

Flashback to January last year when striking drivers manned the picket line at Bank's Circus in Douglas

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The long-running bus dispute should be settled by mid-May, according to Unite’s union leader.

Bobby Morton, the union’s UK-based national officer for public transport, said he had no wish to call further industrial action – having had ‘positive’ discussions with Bus Vannin management.

In another promising sign, the temporary railway platform at Castletown used during the bus drivers’ strike action was taken down last Friday.

An employment tribunal last week formally issued its majority decision that two Bus Vannin drivers had not been unfairly dismissed. David Kelly and Stephen Cowin were test cases for 63 drivers who had claimed unfair dismissal over changes to their contracts.

The long-running dispute came to a head when drivers were dismissed and then offered their jobs back with reduced terms and conditions, including the loss of paid lunch breaks.

Mr Morton said: ‘It’s just a shame it’s taken so long to get round the table.

‘In January I approached Bus Vannin once again to advise them in my opinion the dispute can only be settled around the negotiating table. He said he was prepared to do that but not until the tribunal had taken place. Immediately the tribunal was out of way I met with Mr Longworth and my negotiating committee and we had what I would call very positive discussions about resolving the dispute.

He said a working party had been set up and Bus Vannin and the shop stewards had met on Friday with the aim of putting together a ‘framework for discussions over the outstanding issues between us’.

Mr Morton added: ‘I’m looking to wrap the whole issue up by the middle of May.’

So will there be no more strikes?

‘That’s what I wish,’ he said. ‘I’m not discussing industrial action with anyone at the moment. I wish to stay in a positive mind. But it takes two to tango. If we disagree, anything is possible.’

Mr Morton insisted the tribunal decision had ‘no bearing whatsoever’ on the current discussions.

In its 200-page ruling, the tribunal said by a majority it had decided the dismissals were ‘fair, reasonable and handled correctly’ and termination of the drivers’ contracts and the offer of re-engagement on new contracts was a ‘justified and well-measured course of action’.

It found the now disbanded Department of Community, Culture and Leisure had not been blinkered to looking at other ways of making savings.

The DCCL had been under acute pressure to achieve budget cuts.

Reducing the bus drivers’ wage bill was identified as a way of saving some £300,000.

The majority of the tribunal panel were satisfied the drivers had not been singled out for treatment – and indeed they did not fare as badly as others.

‘Contrary to the representations on behalf of the claimants, the bus drivers were not picked,’ the tribunal agreed.

Average basic salary for an island bus driver in 2011 was about £27,000 but the average overall wage above and beyond basic brought that figure to £37,000 to £38,000 with top earners up to £45,000.

Paid lunch breaks gave drivers a guaranteed basic wage based on 42 hours’ work but they had to work for only 37.

Removal of paid lunch breaks was ‘obviously justifiable’, the tribunal concluded. It rejected criticism of Mr Longworth of being dictatorial and unwilling to negotiate.

The shop stewards, facing elections in June 2012, had ‘played politics’ by declining to negotiate as they might have lost votes if they proposed an unattractive deal, the panel states. It found there were four occasions when the dispute could have been settled. For the shop stewards to change their minds overnight without telling Unite’s island boss Eric Holmes was ‘shabby indeed’.

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