More controversy has hit the long-running bus drivers’ dispute as the tribunal test cases, which started this week, had to be halted early after a row over disclosure of documents.
The case was scheduled for three days but adjourned after a day and a half, and now won’t be heard until February 12 due to the availability of advocates, the panel and witnesses.
Bus drivers David Kelly and Stephen Cowin are claiming unfair dismissal over changes to their terms and conditions, including the loss of paid lunch breaks.
They are among 63 drivers who have submitted claims for unfair dismissal, these first two being heard as test cases.
Counsel for the drivers, Antony Sendell from Littleton Chambers in London, quizzed director of public transport Ian Longworth and Nick Black, former head of the Department of Community, Culture and Leisure (DCCL), who were both giving evidence.
Mr Sendell asked Mr Black if there were any documents to support how the decision to change the terms and conditions was reached.
Mr Black replied: ‘There were papers relating to all matters of the decision. If you believe something is missing I can ask Mr Kniveton [his successor at the DCCL].’
Mr Sendell said: ‘No documents have been produced, not one, showing how this decision was made.
‘Nothing has been disclosed. You say making a saving was subject to discussion in meetings – there must be minutes.
‘These are highly relevant documents relating to the withdrawal of paid lunch breaks. Were you not asked to produce them to your advocate?’
Mr Black replied: ‘I’ve made it clear I’ve left the department. I can’t help you with any decision made on what was disclosed.’
Counsel for the DCCL, Mr John Aycock of local firm M & P Legal said: ‘I’m greatly concerned as there has been no request for any documents, you [Mr Sendell] have never said “show us these documents”. I’ve said if he wants documents, I’ll produce them.
‘Their case has been poorly prepared and pleaded from the start, it’s very wrong to give the impression there are huge amounts not disclosed.
‘It remains that the union agreed the proposals and recommended them to the drivers – that’s a hugely important fact.
‘We’ve never understood what their case is. Now they want to see if there is anything saying we wanted to pick on the drivers. Let’s go back and unpick every email.’
Chairman of the panel Douglas Stewart intervened: ‘It’s like you’re punching a moving target or battling candyfloss. I can’t help wondering if it’s worth continuing.’
After a brief adjournment it was agreed by both sides that time was needed to agree upon the documents required and for them to then be supplied.
Previously, Mr Longworth had given evidence claiming that the drivers were only actually driving for 56 per cent of the hours that they were paid, whereas the industry norm is 80 to 90 per cent. The rest of the time they were free, he claimed, short of being there for their next bus.
The case will now take place over three days, starting on February 12.