Strike misery for Brighton and Hove commuters looks set to spread from the trains to the buses as Brighton and Hove Buses and Metrobus drivers vote to walk out in protest at “draconian” management.
Trouble on the buses has been rumbling for several months, with a consultative ballot in May finding that most were open to the idea of strike action.
Today, the Unite union said that 71.4 per cent had voted for a strike, with 83.3 per cent backing industrial action short of a strike – typically work to rule.
The union says that trouble began following the retirement of popular managing director Roger French, which heralded a new hardline management team at the company, owned by Go Ahead – also the parent company of Southern Rail.
Among the accusations are harassment, intimidation and covert surveillance.
Many bus drivers and engineers have quit, resulting in delays to services – which are now set to be even harder hit by walkouts.
Unite regional officer Janet Henney said: “People used to love working at Brighton and Hove Buses and it used to be held up as local model of good employment.
“This simply is not the case any more with many of our members dreading going into work. They have had enough of being bullied, intimidated and spied on when on sick leave and want to see an end to the ‘draconian’ management style which has created a culture of fear.
“Our members take great pride in keeping Brighton, Hove and Crawley on the move but, as the overwhelming backing for industrial action shows, have reached the end of line.”
“Unite urges senior management to stop paying lip service to good industrial relations and start making the firm the model employer it was once again. Otherwise our members will be left with little option, but to give up a day’s pay and go on strike.”
Brighton and Hove Buses managing director Martin Harris said: “I very much regret that Unite members have voted to support industrial action at Brighton and Hove Buses but feel I must put some of the confusing statistics around this issue into context.
“It has been stated in a Unite press release that their members have voted 71.4 per cent in favour of a strike, with 83.3 per cent backing industrial action short of a strike.
“But what has not been pointed out till now is that of the 962 Unite member working for us, fewer than 500 (497) voted in the ballot – that’s around half (52 per cent) of our Unite members and only around 42 per cent of our total workforce of drivers, engineers and cleaners.
“Moreover, only around 37 per cent of our total Unite members voted in favour of strike action, with the other 63 per cent either not voting or voting against strike action.
“In the light of this, I would strongly urge Unite officials to stop using inflammatory and over-the-top language if we are to resolve this in the best interests of our colleagues – their members – and our customers.
“We have both agreed to meet again and I will be approaching those discussions openly and constructively to find a resolution.
“We successfully engaged with Unite many months ago to initiate a full suite of new employment policies setting out our standards of behaviour, including dealing with bullying if it arose. Individual allegations of bullying would be investigated with the trade union and dealt with appropriately.
“It has been alleged staff have been bullied into working overtime but we do not accept that is the case. We would like to reiterate that overtime working by drivers, extra hours and rest day working are all purely voluntary.
“We have worked hard to reduce a temporary driver shortage by bringing in extra staff to improve services and relieve pressure on our drivers
“We do ask drivers individually if they are willing to work overtime. Indeed, it would be unfair not to ask them as it is an opportunity for drivers to increase their income.
“Our drivers have a tough job and do it brilliantly but it is their prerogative to say no to overtime offers and that is absolutely respected by us.
“Fewer drivers left the company this year compared to last year. This level of turnover is common in the industry but in most months we in fact have a lower than average turnover.
“I sincerely apologise to all our customers for the anxiety this situation must be causing them and any disruption that may result.
“I will of course do everything I can to keep our customers informed of any plans that will impact on their services.”