A UNION rep believes a letter sent by a government minister to bus drivers could be used as evidence in an unfair dismissal tribunal.
Unite the Union’s Eric Holmes said the letter was ‘very contentious and threatening’.
Drivers believe the letter, which refers to negotiations over their contract, tells them their jobs are in jeopardy if they don’t sign up to new working conditions, including the loss of their paid lunch hour.
Mr Cregeen has denied the letter contains a threat but Mr Holmes said: ‘We have responded to the letter directly to Mr Cregeen and pointed out where I feel he’s probably opened the door, if the threats are continued, to unfair dismisal. The letter would be good evidence to anyone sat on a tribunal.
‘I think he’s been badly advised.
‘We are still in negotiation, that shouldn’t’ve been sent out.’
And Mr Holmes said Mr Cregeen had been promoted to the position of Minister of Community, Culture and Leisure from being ‘a low-ranking MHK’, which had had some bearing on the way the situation had been dealt with.
‘I haven’t met him yet but I will be meeting him face to face and telling him what I think of him and what he’s done,’ said Mr Holmes.
The DCCL says it is faced with making an urgent saving of £300,000 and is proposing to change the drivers’ working agreement to remove paid lunch breaks to do so. Drivers say this could cost them in the region of £3,500 to £4,000 a year, equivalent to a 12 per cent pay cut.
They say when the paid lunch break was introduced, they lost other areas of their pay and these would not be reinstated with the loss of paid lunch.
Mr Holmes moved to clarify a comment made by Mr Cregeen that the union had failed to back an alternative suggestion from drivers’ reps which would have saved the £300,000.
The suggestion was to do away with the paid meal relief, remove payment for the first seven days of sick leave and have a longer driving day but with a shift allowance to offset it.
Asked by the Courier why the union did not back the suggestion, Mr Holmes said: ‘Mr Cregeen is partly right and extremely wrong. That had been tabled but the union would not back anything that would attack statutory sick pay, if it only affected one section of a government department (ie the bus drivers).
‘The problem Mr Cregeen has is that his management is not managing sickness properly, they need to start using the rule book.
‘If people are sick they shouldn’t be dragging themselves into work and they certainly shouldn’t be dragging themselves into work to carry our children into school.’
He added: ‘In any case it was rejected by Ian Longworth (director of public transport) because he said it didn’t give enough savings, it just fell short.’