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.

1 comment:

  1. Your reference to Dennis Mulligan took me back to my time with United Counties and Insp Mulligan's numerous attempts to catch me fiddling. He would frequently leave Luton at ridiculous times in the morning to jump my bus on the first journey to Ramsey in the hopes of catching me up to no good and the only thing he coud book me for was issuing a ticket with an incorrect stage number. His and another Irish Inspector also from Luton whose name escapes me carried on their vendetta for almost two years and it wasn't until I transferred to Peterborough Cambus that I finally escaped their clutches. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog.