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Press Release: Chair of Grass Roots Left sacked by Metroline
The Chair of the Grass Roots Left Gerry Downing was summarily dismissed on Tuesday 12th by Metroline Travel at its Cricklewood garage a spurious charge of “inappropriate behaviour towards members of the public whilst driving a route 210”
The dismissal was clearly politically motivated during the election campaign of Jerry Hicks for General Secretary of Unite. It comes on the heel of the libel action taken by Unite against Gerry and the Weekly Worker by Unite’s Regional Industrial Officer Wayne King over an article defending sacked Sovereign buses Convenor Abdul Omer Mohsin on 12 January 2012. This action was initiated by Thompson’s solicitors on 5 December, the day after the snap General Secretary election was called by the Executive Council on 4 December.
His letter to Unite’s General Secretary and Executive Council on 30 December remains unanswered. Gerry has been a thorn in the side of Metroline for over two decades as he says in his submission to the hearing:
“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.
This is Gerry’s account of the disciplinary:
The hearing spanned almost eight hours and three other disciplinary also scheduled for that day had to be postponed because Mr Hill was experiencing considerable difficulty in justifying the sacking and obviously needed assistance. He spent almost an hour and a half consulting the Garage Manager, Leroy Webley, before delivering the verdict after 6pm more than an hour after both should have gone home.
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.