Unite picket line, March 2019. Photograph: Unite.

A trade union is celebrating a pay increase for the borough’s bus drivers for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Just under 40 union members took to the picket lines over pay, with reports emerging during the collective action of workplace bullying and health and safety breaches, according to Unite.

News broke in October that Unite and the council had come to an agreement, after which talks once again appeared to break down in a dispute over whether training would be delivered on staff leave days.

The workers will now see an annual pay increase given out as a lump sum, with opportunities for agency staff to seek permanent roles and the depot’s workplace relationships to be further looked into by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas).

Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “A lot of people are too nervous sometimes to be the one who puts their hand up to make a formal grievance complaint because the employers run the grievance process.

“We have trust in Acas, and with somebody genuinely coming in from the outside, our members are now far more confident to come forward and talk about what has been happening.

“The lesson we’ve taken from it is not rely on grievances and possible employment tribunal claims, but instead for people to rely on their own power when they take collective action.

“This was a group of people who had never taken strike action. When people take collective action and see that they can win something from it, as we’ve had in this case, I don’t think anything is more empowering.”

News broke in October that Unite and the council had come to an agreement, after which talks once again appeared to break down in a dispute over whether training would be delivered on staff leave days.

Kasab added that Acas’ involvement represented a “huge win” for staff, saying that reports of “shouting and screaming”, as well as health and safety breaches including boarded-up fire exits, began to emerge as staff spent time together on the picket lines.

Though the industrial action started over a claim for £50 a week compensation for drivers who undertake split shifts, following the emergence of the reports Unite said they went back to the council and underlined that addressing the issues needed to become part of any resolution.

While the terms of reference of Acas’ involvement have not yet been set, it is understood that the union has proposed open discussions with volunteers with no restrictions on what is discussed.

Referencing reports of bullying and harassment brought up by trade unions in Hackney’s call centre, Kasab expressed his hope that the model of using Acas as an independent arbitrator could be used in other parts of the council, though he added: “My guess is that they will not, as in this case they are being forced to do it as a result of the industrial action.”

The council commissioned an independent report into allegations of bullying and harassment by HR consultant Stephen Sherman, which made a number of recommendations over management culture within the Town Hall’s call centre.

Trade unions condemned the report in October of last year, with Unite as well as Unison and the GMB claiming “staff simply did not have faith or confidence in  the process or system” in order to go on the record with their concerns.

The Town Hall has said that Acas will not be trying to find faults or issues at the depot, but that they will occupy a positive and fact-finding role.

Cllr Chris Kennedy (Lab, Hackney Wick), cabinet member for families, early years and play, said: “Our passenger support assistants and drivers provide a crucial service for children with disabilities in Hackney, and I’m pleased that we’ve come to an agreement that means this will continue uninterrupted for the families that rely on it.

“Like Unite, we want to continue developing a positive and inclusive culture for our staff.

“That’s why, as part of this settlement, Acas will be supporting us by making independent, proactive recommendations to help facilitate this.”

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