No end in sight at Isle of Man employment tribunal

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Unfair dismissal claims from 63 drivers remain unresolved as tribunal says the issues are too complex for an immediate decision

An employment tribunal ruling on test case claims made by two Bus Vannin drivers will now take longer than originally expected, Isle of Man Today reported.

The panel assessing the claims released the following statement: “The complexity of the issues and the length of the evidence was such that no decision can be announced with any immediacy – but every effort will be made to announce the outcome as soon as possible.”

Bus drivers David Kelly and Stephen Cowin are among 63 drivers claiming unfair dismissal over changes to their terms and conditions, including the loss of paid lunch breaks. The test cases, heard by a panel of Chairman Douglas Stewart, Fiona Robinson and Peter Murcott, were held over three days. The hearing originally began in November but was halted due to a dispute over disclosure of documents.

Evidence was heard from Director of Public Transport Ian Longworth, Unite’s Regional Industrial Officer Eric Holmes, former Chief Executive of the Department of Community Culture and Leisure Nick Black, the two drivers and shop steward Carlton Mealin.

Mr Longworth told the tribunal: “We did our utmost to get people to come to the party, we got the feeling they were there to drink our tea and play the long game.”

DCCL’s counsel, Simon Gorton QC, asked Mr Holmes: “By September 2012, you and your shop stewards had agreed a deal and recommended it to your members, yet the result of the ballot was 84-1 against taking the offer, so the five shop stewards either voted against or abstained, despite agreeing to the offer.”

Mr Holmes admitted: “It was disappointing. I can only offer advice. I can’t force them to take it.”

Mr Gorton asked: “Why did you agree to the deal?” to which Mr Holmes replied: “No matter which way we moved the deals always became progressively worse. I felt it was more a dictation than negotiation, but I felt the lesser of two evils was to accept. These were the pressures put on us.”

Mr Gorton said: “Mr Black confirmed that alternative solutions to the changes in terms would be acceptable if they were equal to the amount that needed to be saved (£300,000), didn’t he?”

Mr Holmes replied: “That was stated, but that wasn’t what happened. On numerous occasions alternatives were offered but Mr Longworth wouldn’t accept them.”

Mr Longworth was questioned about his claim that drivers were only driving 56% of the time they were being paid.

He said: “I’m a trained scheduler. I’ve been scheduling since 1974.

“They’re on the pay roll but not doing anything that’s earning me money.”

In his closing argument, counsel for the drivers Antony Sendell, said: “This is really a case about what the DCCL did.

“It was a highly disproportionate burden the drivers were being asked to bear. Because a large identifiable cut was perceived by the government, they believed it was politically deliverable. That renders this process unfair. Cuts weren’t spread, management weren’t suffering any cuts, the drivers were bearing the brunt.”

After negotiations broke down a letter terminating the contracts of the bus drivers was sent, which offered them their jobs back if they signed the new terms and conditions, which included the removal of paid lunch breaks, but also offered the chance to appeal.

Mr Holmes, the two drivers and shop steward Mr Mealin, all claimed it would be ‘pointless’ appealing because of the belief Mr Longworth would be hearing any appeal, but the director said this would not have been the case and he would have appointed impartial officials.

Mr Kelly and Mr Cowin both said that they had lost money since the new terms were introduced and also said that they had concerns about health and proper hydration as they didn’t drink much during the day for fear of not being able to find a lavatory.

Mr Kelly said “I’m more tired, driving a lot more, nine or 10 hour shifts sat in one position, I don’t see it unreasonable to have breaks. I value my health.”