First bus drivers’ tribunal win

Brandon Jones
Brandon Jones
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A GROUP of drivers have won an employment tribunal victory against South Yorkshire’s biggest bus company in a dispute over shift payments.

The 31 staff, based First’s Olive Grove depot, in Sheffield, claimed they had been unfairly denied £30 per week ‘Spreadover’ payments on the week between Christmas and New Year in 2009.

The company did not make the payments - compensation for working a split shift with a three to four hour break - because it operated a Saturday service that week so drivers worked all their hours at once.

The tribunal heard the affected drivers - who were backed by their trade union Unite - had received the payments every year up to 2007, despite not working split shifts that week to avoid any loss of earnings.

But a new operations director Phil Robinson took over at the depot in 2008 and refused to make the payments unless drivers actually worked split shifts.

Martin Mayer, Unite branch secretary at First, said the union complained and First agreed to award the payments for 2008.

And during the week between Christmas and New Year in 2009, the Spreadover payments were again not made.

Mr Mayer said: “The company refused, claiming agreement was reached with the union not to make the Spreadover payment in future. The company refused to hear both collective and individual grievances on this, claiming there was no case to answer as there was now an agreement in place to cease this payment.”

The affected drivers and Unite disputed the company’s claim and took First to the tribunal.

First said there was never a written agreement to make Spreadover payments for split-shift duties which were not actually worked and had “every right” to decline making the payment.

But the tribunal ruled it was “custom and practice to pay this spreadover payment” because it was clear from Mr Mayer’s evidence that the payment had been made consistently for up to 20 years, and possible longer, until it was first refused in 2008.

It therefore became an expected payment and therefore constituted implied terms and conditions, the tribunal said - and ordered that the drivers should receive the payments.

Brandon Jones, deputy managing director of First South Yorkshire, said: “Whilst we are disappointed by the outcome, the tribunal was keen to highlight that they found all the witnesses in the case for both the company and Unite to be truthful in the evidence they gave.

“We will continue to work with the trade union to deliver the best service for our customers and ensure we maintain a successful business.”

First did not make the Spreadover payments at Christmas 2010 but Mr Jones said the company would “review” its decision “in the light of the tribunal”.