Friday, March 15, 2013

Three Back at London Met, but victimisations elsewhere....

 THREE staff members whose suspension raised a row at London Metropolitan University are back at work. In a message thanking supporters the three -researcher Jawad Botmeh, his union representative Max Watson, and Professor Steven Jefferys, head of the Working Lives research unit, say:
Thank you thank you thank you…
All three of us were reinstated by London Metropolitan University
yesterday and today.
This confirms that we have done nothing wrong.
We know we would not have won this terrific victory without your
overwhelming support.
Within two weeks of 600 letters going to the Vice Chancellor and to
the Board of Governors, and of 2,500 signatures to the petition from
colleagues within the UK and the European Union and from around the world we have been reinstated.
Our trade unions, UNISON and UCU, gave us 100% support. This victory confirms the importance of collective strength and solidarity.
You helped us all.
You knew the difference between right and wrong.
You knew it was vital to support the right to union representation,
the right to elect staff representatives and the importance of
academic freedom.
Thanks so much!
Jawad, Max and Steve

The three are inviting friends and supporters to join them for a celebration next week.

But elsewhere there continue to be reports of trade unionists being picked on at work under varying pretexts. Latest is someone I know, Gerry Downing, who has worked on the buses for many years, been a union rep taking up cases for others, and is a Unite delegate on Brent Trades Union Council.
He has had previous run-ins with management, and last year he was given a written warning over "distribution of literature" at Cricklewood garage - he had passed around a clipping from the local paper about the busworkers' plea for toilet facilities at Brent Cross! This disciplinary measure was dropped on appeal.

Gerry is also chair of the Grass Roots Left which is supporting Jerry Hicks in Unite's election, and he is threatened with a libel action from a Unite full-time official whom he criticised, but the management's latest move appears to have seized on an unfortunate "incident" dealing with a difficult member of the public.

Here is a report by Brent trades union council chair Pete Firmin to member(excerpts)s:
Gerry Downing was summarily dismissed on Tuesday, March 12th by Metroline Travel at its Cricklewood garage on a spurious charge of “inappropriate behaviour towards members of the public whilst driving a route 210” 
Gerry has been a thorn in the side of Metroline for over two decades as he says in his submission to the hearing (attached);
“This escalation of the seriousness of the matter cannot be separated from my previous history with Metroline in disciplinary matters – the fact that I was dismissed by Metroline twice in the past and subsequently re-employed due to the buying of the small companies I worked for, the affair in West Perivale where I was charged with Gross Misconduct about an allegation of racism which was dropped without explanation and again charged but not dismissed. There was also the charge of an assault against the previous Rep Lamont Jackson, which CCTV showed to be false and that I had been the victim, where the matter was dropped with no further action by Mr Sampandia Manager of Willesden Garage. Then there was the subsequent charge of distribution literature in Cricklewood for which I got a written warning overturned on appeal.”
This sacking must also be seen in the context of the huge rise in the sacking rate in Metroline as a consequence of the introduction of appalling new contracts for starters in January 2012. The saving for sacking a ‘senior driver’ on relatively good rates and conditions and replacing him or her with a new driver on a far inferior rate and much worse conditions is very considerable.  This follows the recent sacking of a West Indian woman driver for three minor accidents like clipping mirrors after twenty years driving for Metroline. Oscar Alvarez, an Industrial Workers of the World member in the Metroline West Perivale garage was recently sacked also on a similar charge after a confrontation with a woman driver . They also deemed a exchange with a driver to be Gross Misconduct with no proof of any insulting or rude remarks other than a remonstrance with the driver who had admitted cutting up the bus. 
The outcome of Gerry’s hearing was practically predetermined by the inclusion in the disciplinary pack of a letter from the Garage Manager, Leroy Webley in reply to one of two complaints from passengers over an incident that took place on the 210 bus on 15th February.
The reply contained the phrase
“As such, they’re expected to behave in a polite and professional manner at all times.
We failed to do so on this occasion, and I am sorry for any upset/distress you may have suffered as a result of the poor customer care displayed by the driver.”
The was 12 days before the Gerry had been asked for his version of the events and its inclusion in the pack amounted to an instruction to Darren Hill, the most junior Operations Manager in the garage who heard the case, to bring in the required verdict.

The incident on the 210 bus involved an adult boarding the bus with a screaming child. Gerry went over to speak to them, to see if the child could be comforted and calmed down. He says the child was screaming so loud that he had to raise his voice to make himelf heard.
"Ridiculously the judgement came down to whether I was under stress because the mentally ill child had been screaming on the bus for a half an hour and was now back on the same bus to return to where he came from, the Whittington Hospital in Archway, or whether I was concerned for the child’s safety. I had asserted that both was the case but he insisted this was not possible and I had acted because of the stress of the situation and my own domestic problems (my partner was about to undergo a major operation for throat cancer) and I had no legitimate concerns for the child’s safety. He rejected also my plea that such stress was a health and safety as it could cause the driver to have an accident.
"I was unaware of the relationship between the child and the adult and towards the end of the hearing the manager admitted that if the man accompanying the child was a carer and not his father his actions as seen on CCTV in continually covering the child’s mouth and holding him wrapped in a blanket so tightly would amount to abuse. Why it did not amount to abuse irrespective of the relationship he did not explain.
"After the hearing was over another and as we awaited the verdict another 210 driver came up and told how he had the same man on his bus a few weeks previously and he had been screaming in the same way. He said it was clear the kid was mentally ill and needed assistance. After three stops he stopped the bus and got out of his cab and asked that man if he would call an ambulance as the kid is sick? The man said, “No, no, no, the child is just upset.”
 "He said the safety of the child seemed to be in danger and he looked like he was attacking him. The driver gave his details and was prepared to give evidence to the hearing but the manager refused to hear him as he said the case was now closed. He has agreed to give evidence to the appeal.
"It all came down to my body language and the tone of voice I used when asking two questions of the man. This was deemed so gross and offensive that I had to be sacked immediately to protect the public.
"Bus driving is a very stressful job at the best of times. The 15th February was less than a week before my partner was facing a major operation to remove her voice box for throat cancer on the 21st. It was due to take a whole day we were told and her chances of survival were only 30%. It became almost impossible to continue driving with that level of screaming. It might cause me to have an accident, and I had no knowledge of how long it might go on, all the way to Brent Cross maybe? I could not have continued driving for much longer under that pressure but then the child needed urgent assistance and I confronted the man because he clearly was not seeking medical assistance for the child as quickly as possible – he had come from Whittington hospital and had passed the medical clinic in Almington Road on the way to Finsbury Park. I am only speculating that when he got off at Almington Road it was to take the child to the medical clinic which he had missed on the trip from Archway because he was so distressed himself. I have never in the past been found guilty of any inappropriate behaviour to passengers".

 Although this incident seems real enough and reflective both of the tensions erupting in an austerity stressed society just now and the difficult situations with which bus drivers have to cope, the use of an anonymous "witness" who made a complaint reminds me of what happened to a friend in the Post Office some years ago. After decades of satisfactory work, in which he was well-regarded by regular customers, he was told by a new abrasive manager "Your trouble is you have been here too long" - meaning he knew the mail regulations better than his bosses, and that he was prepared to go out of his way to assist a member of the public, without regard to the "commercial" culture then being brought in. Still, they managed to find someone to complain that he had upset them one day. Having been sacked my friend spent two years and much of his savings waiting for an employment tribunal to hear his case. They ruled that he had been mistreated but that the Post Office acted within its rules, and as with other cases even when workers have been wrongfully dismissed, he could not get his job back.

Brent Trades Council is supporting a meeting on Sunday night March 17 to launch a busworkers defence campaign, in support of Gerry Downing and of Oscar Alvarez who was sacked at West Perivale garage. It is at  7 pm in the Trades and Labour hall (Apollo Club) 375 Willesden High rd NW10 2JR (near Willesden bus garage).
Messages of support can be sent to Gerry at:


Great news from Gerry Downing's appeal against dismissal. Gerry has been reinstated to his job as a bus driver. Well done Gerry and thanks to all of those who supported the protest to support Gerry at Cricklewood Garage earlier today.
Pete Firmin Brent Trades Union Council


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