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Tracey Scholes
Unite the Union
Job title
Bus driver, Go North West, Manchester
Tracey Scholes was the first woman driver at the Queens Road bus depot in Manchester. After 34 years of service, she was sacked by Go North West for being too short to see her mirrors properly. Public outrage, a massive Megaphone petition and a media storm followed – and Tracey got her job back. She shares her story below.
Tracey Scholes, bus driver in her earlys years.

Being the first woman driver at the depot, I was determined to pass my double decker test first time. I thought that if I didn’t, every woman that came through the garage would end up being ridiculed. I made sure I could do everything that the men could do.  

The first day I walked into the canteen, it went deadly silent. There were lots of drivers who'd been there years and they just didn't want to speak to me. As time went on, when I went to relieve a driver from the shift, I’d say, ‘Morning! You ok? Everything alright?’ I’d kind of force them to speak, and they started to come round.  

One day a few of the drivers said, ‘Why don't you come out for a drink with us?’ I ended up drinking pints with them - they had to send me home in a taxi! After that they took me under their wing and it went from there. I never looked back.

I was only going to do the job for 12 months and then get something else. But I’m still here 34 years on. It was the camaraderie that I loved. We were like a big family.

You meet some lovely people on your route. You build a rapport with your regulars. I’ve had passengers giving me chocolate and sweets but I have to say, ‘I’m on a diet! You have to stop giving me these!’

The buses can be like greenhouses when it’s warm. I remember one really hot day, a lady on her way home from work gave me a chilled bunch of grapes from M&S. It was one of the nicest things someone had ever done for me.

When the specification of the mirrors on the bus changed, I couldn’t see properly. I lost a 50% view of the mirror. If a bike came up my near side, I’d miss it. I didn’t want to knock someone over so I went to management and explained the problem. They put me on a different route with different buses, and for a good two years I was fine.

But over time, more and more buses had the new mirrors. I went back to management and said, ‘I can't drive these buses, I'm missing routes, I'm losing mileage, I’m letting passengers down. I need to be able to drive safely. Can you help?’

I couldn’t believe it when they said they were going to sack me on capabilities.

I’d gone into the meeting with my union rep, Sam Harvey, and both our mouths dropped open.

I’d never been in trouble before so I didn’t know about grievances and appeal procedures and things like that. Sam talked me through how everything worked and supported me through the process – he was brilliant. But it got to the point where we needed extra help.

I phoned the Unite helpline and that’s when it all kicked in. The leverage and organising team got involved, full time Unite officer Dave Roberts got involved, Mike Thompson – Sharon Graham’s right-hand man - got involved.

I was overwhelmed by the support. I pulled up outside the depot one day for an appeal meeting and there was a huge banner on the fence opposite saying ‘SUPPORT TRACEY SCHOLES - SHE DESERVES BETTER.’ I felt a bit shocked!

Banner on fence

I did have some dark days. It was so hard not knowing what the future was going to be. Would I be able to hold on to the family home? It really took it out of me and knocked my confidence. I had to cancel Christmas. Unite told me not to worry about the money but you can’t help it. You can’t plan for your future. 

My three sons supported me all the way. I remember getting upset one day and my first-born Charlie gave me a big hug. He said, “Stay strong Mum. You’ve done nothing wrong. You’re going to fight this and you’re going to be fine.”

When Unite organised a megaphone petition, no one could have imagined the response we got – over 29,000 signatures. I’m not sure if it was because I was the first female driver at the depot or because I’m a widow with three children. But once they’d heard what had gone on, the public just jumped on it. And that’s when the press got on it.

The day I went for my last appeal, there were about seven cameras waiting for me. I did interviews with Granada, the BBC, Channel 4 news. The Manchester Evening News did a piece and the Guardian came to my house. A journalist filmed me for a show aired in Germany - a bit like The One Show. I was on Steph’s Packed Lunch and Woman’s Hour. I’d never been on Zoom before and suddenly I was on there all the time. I did a speech at the People’s Assembly, the first speech I’d ever done.

At the time, I was really nervous. I told one reporter I was frightened of waffling. She said, ‘I've interviewed politicians and they all waffle, so don't worry about it.’ That settled my nerves straight away.

The attention blew me away. I remember me and my friend walking the dogs miles away in the countryside. When we got something to eat, a woman came over and said, ‘Are you the one off the telly who lost her job?’ I’ve even got some friends in Spain who saw me on the news there.  The story went to America too.

I had job offers from all over. People were saying, ‘Come and work for us! We’ll have you!’

The day I got my job back, GMTV and Good Morning Britain wanted me on. But the company had already put out a statement saying they'd given me my job back - and I’d had enough of interviews by then anyway!

The first day I went back to work, this guy walking his dog stopped, dropped the lead and started clapping. I thought, ‘What's he doing?’ And then he put his thumb up at me, as if to say, ‘You’ve got your job back!’ It was brilliant. 

Now I just want to move forward. But even now, people get on the bus and tell me they signed my petition. I’m on an early shift, at the depot by 5am. If there’s a problem with the mirror, I can change buses within the depot rather than out on service. It’s worked out alright - I finish by 10.30am. I’ve just got to be disciplined about going to bed.

I can’t thank my reps Sam and Len and Unite enough. The full support of them all was fantastic. They were behind me 100%. That's why I want to put back in though my new role.

Sam, Tracey and Len.

I’ve been voted in as Equalities Workplace Rep and I’m new at it, but I’m learning and I’m loving it.  I'm 57 now, so I'm not looking for a promotion, I'm not looking to climb the ladder. I just want to be like everyone else, coming into work and doing my job. But if I can support someone that needs it, I will. In fact, I’m champing at the bit to help other people now!

When CHEP went on strike, I went down to the picket with some beers and said, ‘These are for when you win. It's going to be a long haul, but just stick it out.’ I parked right in front of the offices and a security guard said to the guys, ‘Can you tell that lady to move her car?’ And one of them said, ‘Don’t you know who she is?!’

Dave Roberts from Unite gives us his take on Tracey’s dispute.

 “It was the company’s actions that had caused the problem, not Tracey’s.”

Tracey not being able to see the mirrors properly wasn’t an issue that happened overnight. A couple of years ago, Go North West started changing their mirrors from the original position on the front of the bus to the side. This was to prevent collisions with street furniture like lampposts and signs.

The first time Tracey went to management and told them she couldn’t see the mirrors properly anymore, they helped her. They said, ‘Ok, we’ll move you to a different route with different buses.’

Other depots were moving their mirrors too. But when they started having problems with drivers not being able to see properly, they reverted back to the original spec. But Go North West carried on moving their mirrors.  So it was inevitable that eventually Tracey would run out of buses that she could drive safely - it was always going to happen.

At this point she went back to the managers and asked for help, but instead they decided to sack her. They told her she wasn’t capable of driving their vehicles. But it was actually the company that was preventing her from doing her job - they put the barrier in place. It was the company’s actions that had caused the problem, not Tracey’s.

You often getting people putting on a lot of weight in the bus industry. There have been times when someone has become so big, they can’t get in the cab. Those individuals have been offered proactive support with a weight programme or some other kind of help. Lots of companies have changed the spec of the cab seats so that they can take more weight. But with Tracey, it was, ‘No, that’s how our vehicles are going to be, and that’s end of it’. It was horrendous.  

When we told the public that they'd dismissed Tracey because she was too small, there was uproar. All the passengers were up in arms because it was all just so unfair – it was ridiculous. She’d done nothing wrong.

When the press got involved, we said to Tracey, ‘Look, we know it’s a bit daunting, but everyone’s interested in your story, everyone wants to speak to you. Just be careful what you say – stick to the facts.’ Because Tracey’s got a good personality, a lot of people would see her interview and then they’d want to talk to her as well.  

Tracey was fantastic - we were so proud of her. The dispute was something she should never have had to have gone through, but she dealt with it brilliantly.

Sometimes there's this perception that unions only deal with collective stuff. But actually we’ll support all members in every way. If there's a cause and we can fight it, we always will. We’ll use all parts of Unite – industrial, leverage and legal support – to get our members the win.”

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