WITH UPDATE TO ORIGINAL ARTICLE AT THE BOTTOM
Let’s hope that Community, Culture and Leisure Minister Graham Cregeen spends some of his 20p an hour pay increase on a pair of mittens. He’s going to need them this winter to keep those ham fists of his warm.
And if the last few days are anything to go by, he may need to ask someone to attach them to the sleeves of his jacket as I’m not sure his grip on them will be too good.
On Saturday, bus drivers received a letter telling giving them 90 days’ notice. Effectively, they will have to reapply to keep the job they currently have, with different terms and conditions.
That’s right. A government department sent out letters to its employees, with whom it is currently in dispute with, effectively telling them they will lose their jobs unless they accept what’s on the table.
This is the same government department that has refused to go to arbitration in the dispute with bus drivers, who are unhappy that they will no longer receive payment for their lunch break.
The planned cut is being brought in because the Department of Community, Culture and Leisure needs to save £300,000.
Maybe if it had spent a little less money buying every available new bus over the past couple of years, it wouldn’t have found itself in this position. Or perhaps if it dropped the order for a £350,000 diesel locomotive to go on a steam railway, a more harmonious route could have been taken with the bus drivers?
No one is arguing that the 100 bus drivers of Bus Vannin are not paid well, with claims that, once overtime arrangements are worked in, they can be receipt of up to £40,000 per year.
But whose mismanagement allowed that situation to arise? Why, could it have been the government?
Remember this, bus drivers are not being asked to accept a pay freeze, they are actually being asked to take an actual cut in pay, on top of facing up to increases of cost of living.
They are being asked this by a government department which will be paying its civil servants 20p an hour extra. And a government department whose political members – ie MHKs – are also receiving that 20p an hour. A government full of MHKs who tried to suggest that the incorporating their annual expenses lump sum – which did not have to be accounted for – into their salary as a pay cut.
I’m not saying bus drivers shouldn’t be expected to tighten their belt, but it does seem rather harsh that their pay is not merely standing still, it’s going down.
It is hardly surprising they are not accepting such a deal readily. Would you in the same circumstance?
Again, let’s emphasise, this is a pay cut, not a pay freeze.
But let’s put aside the actual debate over what bus drivers should be paid; after all it’s not unusual for employers and employees to have a different perspective.
Let’s look at the DCCL’s attitude.
The department has, apparently, refused to go to arbitration. At the same time it has tried to suggest claims the Unite union has forced the department into this Draconian action.
Those two things don’t really add up, I’m afraid.
Then, the letters went out to the bus drivers on a Friday evening. So bus drivers, those who weren’t on duty when the post came, got them on the Saturday.
It’s always handy to deliver bad news on a Saturday – it dilutes the impact. It meant that word of the letter was spread across the different branches of the media at different times; at a weekend.
We all know that reduces the impact. I bet the DCCL was wishing last week’s flooding had waiting until Saturday, because that would have further hidden its actions.
I don’t pretend that Unite has covered itself in glory in this whole affair. It has also allowed the matter to escalate and could have done more to convince its members.
Also, you suspect that Unite representatives should have a better idea of how to conduct good industrial relations.
As, clearly, Graham Cregeen, doesn’t.
He is Allan Bell’s newest minister, having come into the cabinet earlier in the summer.
He has history for antagonising employees in the bus service from his previous time at the department. He has served to illustrate this antipathy once more.
Mr Bell says he cannot influence events, which does beg the question of what is his job as chief minister?
It’s all very well for Chief Minister to take a hands off approach and leave it to the departments to make the savings he demands.
But, as Mr Bell said to me recently, the government has to remember these are real people’s lives they are dealing with.
Currently there is a nasty feeling that one of his ministers is playing politics with those lives.
I’m not the only person who has wondered whether Mr Cregeen thinks it’s the 80s, it’s the UK, and he’s Margaret Thatcher, looking for a union to pick a fight with.
It’s a high risk strategy. The classless behaviour of the DCCL over the last few days risks unifying trade unions in a battle the Isle of Man can ill afford.
Both sides need to get back to the negotiating table.
Update (October 31): Following the publication of the original article, it has emerged that 25 per cent of bus drivers have now accepted the new terms and conditions offered to them.
Also, DCCL Minister Graham Cregeen has had to apologise after erronneously telling MHKs that the basic pay of bus drivers was £37,000.
In a letter to Tynwald members – the former postman is sending quite a lot of letters it seems – he explains that he meant to say £27,000.
Although, in actual fact, basic pay is £28,000 which he points out in the letter, also saying the average take home for bus drivers, is £38,000.
Confused? Well Mr Cregeen appears to be.
Unite is balloting its members over strike action.
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