Following a difficult year with the 35-hour week and pay dispute (covered in the last two issues of Off The Rails), Network Rail signallers now face a series of fresh attacks.
Network Rail is using its operations reorganisation to attack the PTR&R (Promotion, Transfer, Redundancy and Resettlement) agreement, casting a shadow over the future of many signalling jobs.
In August, NR asked Signaller Managers to sign a Role Clarity contract and become Local Operations Managers (LOMs). But some refused, as they wanted to keep the protection of union-negotiated agreements in their existing grade. The company's response? To formally notify them that they would be issued with redundancy notices!
Network Rail should have honoured the PTR&R, including the option of redeployment to an alternative position with protection of earnings. But no. Instead, the company said it would apply this to only one grade below your existing one.
Signallers have been quick to realise that this is not just a threat to the smallish group affected so far, but the opening salvo of an attack which could affect us all. NR has promised the government to cut its operating costs by up to one-fifth, and signalling grades are in the firing line. Through consolidation of signalling locations, the company hopes to cut jobs, and then save even more money by ignoring its obligations under the PTR&R to redeploy 'surplus' workers into suitable alternative posts.
Management dragged their heels about meeting RMT about this. But even if talks between the union and the employer resolve this for now, we need to be on the alert. That's why RMT’s Signalling Grades Conference unanimously passed a resolution that any further breach of the PTR&R should “be met with a ballot for industrial action”.
We have to defend every member of signalling and supervisory staff whose job comes under threat. Because once the first domino falls, it becomes harder to stop the rest tumbling over.
Network Rail's new 'Cognisco' assessment system spells stress for signallers. There are 200 questions, many ambiguous, some not even relating to our duties eg. setting up ESR marker boards.
Management claim that Cognisco is not pass/fail. But if you don't make the bench-mark score you have to re-take it, which sounds like pass/fail to us! Trainers are not allowed to explain questions, and if you fail, you are not told what you got wrong.
Not surprisingly, many signallers suspect a hidden agenda. Network Rail says now that Cognisco won't be used in disciplinaries, but maybe once they iron out its more obvious flaws, that will change. They plan to merge boxes and cut staff, and Cognisco could be very useful to them in weeding us out.
As usual, when an employer wants to attack its workforce, it attacks its union reps. Network Rail has de-recognised an RMT rep in the Wales and Marches area, and concocted 'gross misconduct' charges against a rep on the south coast which it had to drop after four months.
Network Rail is taking advantage of a level of disarray in the union and demoralisation in its ranks following the mishandling of this year's pay dispute.
But when a union messes up, the rank and file need to learn from the mistakes and fight to ensure that next time, they are not repeated. We can not allow ourselves to become embittered and easy pickings for a bullish and unscrupulous management.