Friday, 30 October 2009

Chapter 30 A new Broom at Hemel Hempstead

Well they say a new broom sweeps clean and once Luton and District had become embedded then it was goodbye to all things London Transport including Bill Bailey. It was sad day when Bill was told to clear his desk as drivers knew by then that although in Bills eyes you were guilty until proven innocent he was above all fair.
A few days after Bill Bailey had gone I had reasons to go in and see the new Depot Manager, imagine my surprise when I came face to face with Dave Love. The last time I had met Dave was as TGWU area rep, talk about poacher becoming game keeper. Well Dave did not last too long, neither union nor management felt at ease with Dave. There was one time when we were operating the 747 Jetlinks to Luton and the old Luton & District Inspector Dennis Mulligan (Dennis is now retired and became a good friend over the years, often jumping on my coach for a chat rather than checking the tickets) started booking us old London Country drivers for early running at Luton bus station, remember we had now been taken over by Luton & District. Dennis would put in his report to Dave and we in turn had to see Dave. Dave would duly undermine Dennis's efforts by telling us "he [Dennis] can't book you under TUPE"
TUPE or Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) regulations was an European directive introduced in 1977 to protect employees when there is a change of employer so that conditions of employment are not worsened and any change in conditions must be in consultation with the trade unions. Needless to say our government reluctantly introduced this legislation in 1981.
What Dave Love was pointing out to the drivers was that under London Country terms and conditions the only official who could book us was another London Country official. Unfortunately TUPE only applies for twelve months after the acquisition. Dennis couldn’t wait for the twelve months to pass, but did we have some fun with him in the mean time.
After Dave left our next Depot Manager was the very likeable John Bass. Neil Instrall was still in place as Garage Manager and I believe kept a firm control on what John could or could not do unlike the maverick Dave Love.
Soon John left for another garage. In the mean time Luton & District had acquired a small provincial bus company, ‘Stewart Palmer’ of Luton and their MD Alan Hobbs became our next Depot Manager. Note while these managerial changes where going on Colin Bacon was still Union Rep, Dave Gill Branch Secretary and I was still Health and Safety Rep.
After a while Alan was moved sideways into supervising the introduction of NVQs. It would appear that someone somewhere thought it a good idea to give people in every day jobs a qualification to say that they could do that job. If they couldn’t do the job surely they would have left anyway.
Obtaining a level 1 NVQ did not require any learning only getting passengers to tick boxes on a form to say how good you were. You of course got your favourite and most friendly passengers to fill in your forms. Any writing was minimal. Having left school with seven ‘O’ levels, NVQs were a backward step but as it was in the company's interest to be able to say “all our drivers have NVQs in Customer Service” the company offered all drivers £100 to take the NVQ. Oh that’s £100 before tax.
Having passed Level 1 we were then encouraged to take Level 2. When I asked Alan if this was now a £200 job he said no still £100 so I said no to that.
So what next in the Depot Manager stakes? A managerial shake up yet again.
We have Garage Manager, Neil Instrall and we have Depot Inspectors who report to the Depot Manager. Lets get rid of the Depot Manager; Neil Instrall now takes on both rolls of Garage and Depot Manager. Let's make one poor Inspector take the can for all the Inspectors cock ups and call him Senior Duty Manager. That job fell to Barry Madams, who was very good at sorting out cock ups, usually the drivers.
Soon Neil could take no more and left for a senior position with Aldershot & District Transport. These days Neil according to my union colleagues is now running buses for Stagecoach in Brighton & Hove. On the scene now comes Nick Knox. Nick is a very able senior manager and set about putting Hemel Hempstead, Aylesbury and Watford on a firm financial and operating footing. The problem with running three garages was that as drivers we would see routes and jobs move from one garage to another and this made it a lot harder for the Union to protect work in any one garage. A little while later we did get our own Garage Manager, Ken Hargreaves, who has managed to put up with us and visa versa for a number of years now.
Now I’ll give Nick his due he was committed to health and safety issues, on the proviso that they were cost effective. Or as is laid down in the Health and Safety legislation, 'where reasonable practical' which does mean bringing costs into the equation. A small company cannot be expected to lay out a very large sum of money on health and safety prevention whereas it is expected that a large company could and should. was not how it should be.
The classic example was the introduction of Hi-Viz vests for all drivers. I had argued for years for these to be issued to all staff quoting no end of safety legislation at Nick. One day at our monthly Health and Safety Committee meetings (these have now regressed to two monthly with very little observance of committee procedure) Nick announced the company was to issue all driver with Hi-Viz vests. I told Nick in no uncertain terms the company was now introducing them as it made the company look good and not to protect the drivers. Nick on the other hand denied this.
Well they say a new broom sweeps clean but what happens with old brooms. I believe that generally things are kept clean enough for people not to get too upset about the odd bits of dirt in the corners. As a trade unionist it always worries me when after a while I see the beginning of a cosy relationship between management and the union reps. This is of course how management want it to be and how they try to manipulate the trade unions. Although Colin Dave and I have held the same official positions for some years now we still have our ups and downs with management but it is inevitable that with time we do become friendlier with the managers on a personnel basis. Just recently this relationship had all the drivers in the canteen in fits of laughter.
We were holding a union ballot to decide who should become the Defects rep, a job that entails keeping the engineers on their toes. The GM was in the canteen and had just bought Colin a cup of tea. A driver had come in to see Colin about more route learning, Colin was trying to tell the GM that he (Colin) would take the driver out in his own time however as usual the GM jumps in before Colin had finished and starts saying that he'd already paid the driver once to do the route learning and was not going to pay him twice. Colin was furious and with a retort of "f...k you" stormed out of the canteen saying I'm trying to help you. After a few seconds the GM looks at me and with a puzzled expression says "I've just bought him a cup of tea." Later as usual the differences were resolved and things were back on an even keel.
That’s how it’s been for some time now. The monthly union meetings we use to have which raised many points have now all but gone. The only times branch meetings are called is over pay deals and now that management like to have three year deals meeting no longer take place. Colin and Dave prefer to listen to drivers complaints on the weekly stand down. Once a week a union rep is stood down to deal with disciplines. I am concerned that we no longer have branch meetings. It was a good place for drivers to have a moan and get things off their chests even if it was the union reps who bore the brunt of the moans. Also it was the same drivers who always turned up to meetings and could pass resolutions that could affect the majority of staff who did not attend. I was forever cajoling drivers to come to the meetings but it was only if the words 'pay' or 'industrial action' was on the agenda would more than a dozen staff turn up. I believe this poor attendance led to Colin and Dave becoming disheartened and this has led to the decline in the branch being an active branch.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Chapter 29 New Managers same Drivers

My work as union Garage Representative and Health and Safety Representative allowed me to meet with all our different garage managers all of whom have their own ways of running things.
In my early days with LT I rarely came into contact with garage managers except on disciplines of which were very rare. I was unfortunate to have had an accident whilst at Edgware garage where a woman driver pulled across into Cricklewood Broadway and collided with the side of my RT bus on route 142 to Kilburn Park Station. I pulled up at the side of the road and went back to see my conductor who was about to disappear into the betting shop calling back to me "you handle it mate it was her fault". I then took the driving particulars of the lady driver and put in my report to the depot inspector expecting to hear no more about it as I was clearly not to blame. Ok I was young and naive. According to all other road users if there is an accident involving a bus then the bus driver must be at fault. In this case I was called in to see the Garage Manager who said he’d received a letter from the lady’s insurance company and she was claiming I was doing over 30mph. I explained to the manager that had she witnessed me travelling at over 30mph why on earth did she pull across into the path of the bus and as it was she didn’t hit the front of the bus but hit it in the middle off side. I was told to put it in writing and hand it in. Fortunately my standard of English was good (no spell checker in those days) and I heard no more about the incident.
No accidents occurred during my spell at Uxbridge garage so no visits to the garage manager.
I’ve mentioned how upon my return to the UK how Reg Goodchild the GM or Chief Inspector as he was known then was more like a father figure always keeping his drivers out of harms way. One afternoon I was coming back from Chelsham on the 706 when I saw they were resurfacing the road on the approach to Tring. I thought I could just squeeze between the stone laying machine and the kerb, unfortunately I couldn’t. Looking in my mirror I saw I had spun the machine around, but continued driving to the garage. Whilst paying in I heard a commotion going on outside the next minute Reg appeared and called me into his office. “Did you hit that road laying machine?”
The truth seemed the best answer, “yes I think I may have”
“Well next time you do that make sure you’ve got the bloody room to get by” and I heard no more about it, Reg must have placated the irate road crew.
Upon my move to Amersham I was to encounter yet another fatherly figure in ‘Gerry’ Coe. Gerry was very good to all his staff and although I had no reason to meet him in a disciplinary manner he was always willing to enquire after my well being.
After Amersham it was back to Hemel Hempstead and a new breed of Garage Manager. While I was working at Amersham Reg Goodchild had retired and his position as Chief Depot Inspector was taken over by George Holby. George as I have mentioned earlier was a wonderful man, very kind, jovial and helpful. Sadly George died before I came back to Hemel Hempstead.
I received no welcome from the new Chief Inspector Arthur Harris and it was not until my first discipline that I met Arthur. I pointed out to him it would have been nice to have been welcomed back to Hemel Hempstead, but it fell upon deaf ears. Arthur spent a lot of time shouting at people. When Luton & District took over, a new set up was put in place. Keen to replace all semblance of London Transport they set about systematically replacing all things LT and that included Arthur and the system of Inspectors. In London and the provinces in the 60s one could tell who you worked for by the colour of the stripe on your uniform trousers and your rank within the company by ones cap badge.
Postmen, a red stripe, LT Underground staff, a yellow stripe, LT Central Bus staff, a blue stripe and LT Country Area, a green stripe. Rank within LT buses was as follows:
Drivers and Conductors a white cap badge
Uniformed Inspectors, a Red badge, then Silver and finally Gold
Driving Instructors had a Blue cap badge
Depot Inspectors did not have a uniform or a badge.
Senior Officials of the London Transport Board had neither uniform nor cap badge but they did have a key fob which if it was shown to you it usually meant you were in trouble (see chapter 4).
All things LT were soon to be swept away including those LT Inspectors who had seen many years service. Inspectors became Depot Managers and were requires to not only work within the depot (Depot Inspectors) but were required to go out checking buses and drivers (Road Inspectors).
The Chief Depot Inspector became the Operations Manager and a further tier of management was added by introducing a Garage Manager responsible for both drivers and engineers. After Arthur Harris moved on we were to have one of the best, in my opinion, Operations Managers I've ever worked with. Luton and District hadn't taken over when 'Bill' Bailey took up his post.
I've already mentioned Bill in chapter 22 as having an uncanny knowledge of when drivers were trying to pull the wool over his eyes. If you had to see Bill on a discipline and you were guilty of the offence Bill knew the moment you entered his office. As the union rep it was my job to accompany drivers on disciplines to put their cases forward and to make sure the correct disciplinary procedures were followed. Now Bill was fair even to the extent of trying to get drivers to find any mitigating circumstances for their actions or omissions.
There was one driver who had allegedly stolen another driver's module (this is a personalised plastic module which slots into a ticket machine and records all the tickets sold). It appeared that this driver would change their own module for the stolen one during their shift and pocket the money taken. Now before I took the driver in to see Bill I asked the driver had they had in fact used the others driver's module and the driver assured me they hadn't. I said to Bill that there must be some explanation and Bill told me how an Inspector had checked the driver's bus and withdrawn tickets from two different machines; one set from the stolen module, Bill even showed me photo copies of the withdrawn tickets. Bill was good enough not to spring this on me during the hearing. There was nothing I could do for the driver except to plead that they keeps their job. The driver was dismissed and the stolen module returned to its rightful owner.
When drivers had claimed that they had hit road signs that over hung the road Bill would always send out an Inspector to check if the road sign was in fact protruding onto the road and if it was the case then the driver was held not to blame and the local council contacted to rectify the road sign.
Above Bill was the Garage Manager and during Bills reign the person in overall charge of the garage was Neil Instrall. Now Bill had this wonderful feeling for being right, never mind what anyone else felt. If Neil decreed something should be done and Bill felt it wrong he would always challenge Neil. If a driver is seen by an official to commit an offence then that same official cannot be part of the disciplinary hearing. On one occasion Neil had spotted a driver driving out of service without permission and duly tried to discipline the driver. Upon hearing this Bill immediately sprung to the driver defence saying although the driver was in the wrong so was Neil in over riding procedure. Another time Bill sprung to the defence of his staff was when a member of the public called into the office to complain and became very offensive to our two female enquiry staff, Bill came rushing out of his office and chased the complainant down the steps and off the premises.
One day sitting in Neil’s office at a union meeting we were discussing which way buses should travel around the depot, the majority, Neil included said the buses should travel in a clockwise direction. No said Bill they will travel anti clockwise. What about democracy one of the union reps said. “I’m in charge of this garage and if I say they go anti clockwise then that’s the way they’ll go.” Although Neil Instrall was in charge Bill got his way.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Chapter 28 From London Country to Arriva

On the 1st January 1970 the Country Area of London Transport was transferred to a subsidiary of the National Bus Company and renamed London Country Bus Services and operated as such for almost seventeen years until September 1986 when it was split into four groups ready to be sold off during 1987/88. The political thinking behind the splitting up of the National Bus company was for small groups to compete to give passengers a better deal. Any manager worth his salt will not be content with a small company when he can either expand his empire, or sell his company and take the money and run.
So began over ten years of turmoil within the bus industry seeing both passengers and employees suffer. We at Hemel Hempstead along with our fellow garages within the old London Country Area were embroiled in this upheaval.
During the period 1986 to 1990 our managers tried in vain to keep LCBS North West, as we were now called, going as a profitable concern but in October 1990 were taken over by Luton & District Transport.
For many years Aylesbury depot had been part of United Counties. Hemel drivers who operated the 301 service from Watford to Aylesbury considered themselves to be a cut above the Aylesbury drivers who after all were part of the provincial buses whereas Hemel Hempstead had been part of London Transport. So it was it was a bitter pill to swallow to find our provincial colleagues rescuing us.
All the drivers and staff were invited to an open meeting held in a hotel where Dennis Upton the MD of Luton & District with his wife Shirley the secretary told us of their plans for the expanded company. I'm afraid to say that we gave them a very rough ride. We believed we could still operate under the old London Transport system which of course was impossible. Dennis told us we were on the point of collapse and we should be grateful to Luton & District for rescuing us. This was a severe blow to our pride. But over the next couple of years things settled down and the London Country North West Logo was removed from the garage and was replaced by Luton & District. Our operating system became that of the provincial bus services, for example vehicle numbers became car numbers, car and vehicle being the name for the bus or coach, mind you after ten years we are back to some of our old London Transport terminology .
After two years, in July 1994, Luton and District sold out to British Bus, previously known as Drawlane and the third largest bus operator in the UK. Many of the Aylesbury drivers made a handsome profit on this deal, being share holders in Luton and District. However in the cut throat market of the deregulated bus market British Bus soon foundered and we at Hemel Hempstead were informed that unless a buyer could be found very soon for British Bus we could all be out of work. We heard that a bid had been put in by Hong Kong Bus and also a rival bid by the Cowie Group. Cowie had been busy buying up a number of South London Bus companies. In the end Cowie won and our jobs saved.
During this upheaval we had a five year pay freeze which is something you do not need with one small child and another on the way and a mortgage whose interest rate had risen to 10 percent. At this time I believed what was required was a period of calm but our branch officials were more militant which is fine when you are in a position of strength. We had been taken over by Luton and District who were at that time owned by a management buy out.
I decided therefore to stand against Dave Carson, the Garage Representative at the next TGWU elections. The mood of the garage must have been similar to mine as I was voted in. Our branch secretary at that time was a young girl, Leslie Wingfield, who helped me settle in to my new role.
In the days of London Transport, wages had been determined by negotiations between the TGWU and London Transport. The rate of pay was the same for every Central LT garage with a lower rate for the Country Area buses and Greenline Coaches.
However with the break up of the Country Area pay rates varied between the four ex London Country Bus Services groups. Drivers at Hemel were on a different rate of pay from our colleagues at Stevenage or Reigate. Things got even worse following the take over by Luton & District and by the time I took over as union representative each garage had to negotiate its own pay scales with its garage manager.
Now our garage manager at that time was Neil Instrall. Neil was keen to keep wages down and also was quite aware that I was new rep with very little wage bargaining experience. Fortunately my good friend Dennis Boarder came to my rescue. Dennis had been in the bus industry nearly as long as I had and had a wealth of experience as a TGWU schedules representative and had attended many wage negotiations with the old London Country management.
Between us we formulated a wage package and put it to Neil Instrall. The first offer Neil put to me was a substantial pay increase for Greenline drivers. Neil knew full well my feeling that Coach driver should be on a higher rate as they had been under London Transport. This pay differential had been sold as part of a general increase in pay for all drivers.
As much as I would have loved to accept a pay rise for myself and my fellow coach drivers as a union representative for all the garage I would have been lynched had I taken that proposition to the members. So negotiations continued. We knew Neil did not have the final say as every time he asked us to leave his office he was on the phone to his manager. After some very noisy meetings during which Dennis came to my aid we managed to persuade the members to accept the managements final offer.
Finally in 1996 we were taken over by Cowie. ( For those interested in the history of the Cowie group and why it changed its name to Arriva check out )
Things soon settled down and I found myself resolving garage disputes including disciplines, route timings and numerous things that go towards a smooth running garage. However one thing still remained outstanding and that was pay and conditions. With perseverance and a willing MD in Peter Harvey we finally achieved our goal of central negotiations. With so much disparity between individual garages it took a few years to get all the drivers in all the garages onto the same pay rates.
By now not only did we have mini buses in the garage but also some routes were operated as contract routes to the local council. To gain these contract routes Neil Instrall had tendered for them agreeing to pay the drivers a rate between that of the mini buses and the big bus pay. Things pay wise were beginning to get complicated. I remember back in the 70s our union representative Bob Stevens warning us not to let mini buses into the garage. Mini bus drivers had a lower rate of pay and if as soon became apparent there became more mini bus drivers than big bus drivers management would play of one group against the other, which of course it did.
Again it would take many years of negotiations to get all drivers onto the same rate of pay. We are still not quite there. When I started at Edgware I was paid the same rate as a driver who had been there forty years. At present a new driver will have to wait three years to reach the full rate of pay, yet he will have the same responsibilities as the driver who has been there for years.
and now coach drivers are paid no more than the bus driver.
Perhaps it was being a coach driver that the accusation of favouring the coach drivers over the bus drivers finally led to my position of Union Representative being challenged. At the next branch elections I was ousted as union rep to be replaced by Colin Bacon. Thankfully Colin has made a very good rep winning us some good pay awards.
I took over the position as Health & Safety Representative which led to gaining a position on a BA course at the London Metropolitan University sponsored by the TGWU.
Part of the course required me to study the history of the bus industry and as a young person I remembered thumbing lifts in cars during the 1958 bus strike. I wanted to find out the facts behind the 1958 bus strike. I have attached that piece of work as an appendix to this narrative. Part of the research would require going through all the minutes taken at the branch meetings, which I was sure I had seen in the old garage. I searched everywhere for them but to no avail. One day I was carrying out a health and safety check in the electrical switch room when I saw an old locked filing cabinet. I got one of the engineers to remove the lock with a pair of bolt cutters and there to my relief were all the old minutes going back to 1956. It was then that I remembered moving the cabinet myself many years ago when we moved from the old garage and putting it in the switch room for safety. One of the points that I made in that project was the dramatic effect the defeat of the Country area busmen had on future industrial action. There were no strikes or threatened industrial action over pay for many years even, as I have mentioned before, during the five year pay freeze. So it was with great pride in my fellow workers that in 2004 we finally balloted for strike action over a pay award. I was at the Luton head office when the results of the pay ballot came through. Management could hardly believe the results, the work force had overwhelmingly rejected the pay offer and were prepared to take industrial action. Within days the union reps were called back around the table and a new and much improved offer was put before them which following a ballot at all of the garages we accepted.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Chapter 27 The Transport and General Workers Union
Photo: T&G Eastbourne Centre

It was during the 1980s and the 90s that the bus industry was subject to takeovers and amalgamations. It was the intention of the Thatcher Government to split up the National Bus Company into many small operating groups in the belief that competition between bus companies would lead to a more efficient transport system. In fact what it led to was chaos for the public and a worsening of working conditions for bus crews. Yet it is strange that it was the capitalist philosophy of the market finding its own level that finally rebuilt the bus industry with all the small fragmented companies being brought out by four major players, Stagecoach, National Express, First Bus and our own company Arriva.
During this time of upheaval I saw my part as a TGWU representative to help smooth the transition from London Country to Luton & District to British Bus and finally to Arriva. One problem was one of Union politics. Hemel Hempstead garage came under TGWU region 1 whereas some other garages within the group came under TGWU region 5 and some mighty rows took place during this time within the union. At one point one of our national officers accused the Amersham representative and myself of trying to form a break away group. We believed we were doing the best for our membership and that the national officer had his own agenda. In the end after lots of inter regional meetings it was decided that pay negotiations would be settled jointly between region 1 and 5 and that region 1 would control all other aspects within its area and likewise with region 5.
At one point I remember my boss Neil Instrall asking myself and our branch Chairman, Bob Cawdren to attend a meeting with the new management of Luton & District. Peter Harvey, the new MD, had come from Midland Fox whose area was covered by Region 5 of the TGWU and Peter was use to dealing with Region 5 officers and he wanted the garages in Region 1 that is the old London Country garages to come under Region 5. We in Region 1 were having non of that. We knew for a start that Region 1 had a better education system for its members and we were prepared to boycott any meetings with the new management. Neil Instrall my garage manager said he’d been told that if the union reps from Region 1 attended a meeting between the management and the work force chances were we would receive some new vehicles. We did attend and Hemel did get some new vehicles. In fact I got on quite well with our new MD Peter Harvey and the move to the new premises went quite smoothly, and Hemel Hempstead was still part
of Region 1.
As a young driver with London Transport I use to attend union meetings at Uxbridge garage, well not in the garage but over the road at the 'Whip and Collar' pub. Being quite a shy young person I actually took no part in the proceedings but was an observer of union procedure.
Having been involved in the closure of Tring garage in 1977 I now really appreciated the hard work the trade unions put in on behalf of their members and once back at Hemel in 1979 I became more involved in union affairs. I gained confidence in speaking in public, something a lot of people find hard to do. Hemel Hempstead garage had always had a reputation for militancy which served the garage well and we had maintained our differential in pay between the central buses and the country area for many years. However with the coming of the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher our pay began to fall and our working conditions became worse. By taking away many of the legal protections the unions had, the ordinary members found it harder and harder to protect their pay and conditions. No longer servants of the public, remember our license was a Public Service Vehicle license, we became part of a profit making company and our license reflected that by becoming a PCV or Passenger Carrying Vehicle license. Part of the revenue we collected now went to share holders who of course wanted a bigger return on their investments which meant efficiency, which in turn meant goodbye to less profitable routes, unless local councils would subsidize those routes. It also meant pay cuts or pay freezes.