Fighting casualisation

Submitted by AWL on 2 August, 2013 - 2:37

This issue of Off The Rails focuses on the issue of casualisation, and how to fight it (and how not to fight it!).

On the centre pages, there’s an article looking at the “Justice for the 33” campaign, and elsewhere we discuss the dispute against casualisation on Northern Rail.
Casualised forms of working are spreading around the railway industry like wildfire.

Agency working, zero-hour contracts, temporary staff ... All are means for employers to plug gaps in coverage without forking out the cost of permanent staff with secure pay and conditions. There are now many engineering projects with more agency workers than direct employees. And we are seeing more and more in ticketing, gateline, security, admin and other roles.

Many are supplied by notorious companies such as G4S and Trainpeople – shady rip-off merchants who grab the money with little concern for the service they provide and no concern for their workers.

Employers do not need an excuse to drive down our pay and our rights in order to maximise their profits. But if they did need one, they have the McNulty report and the 9% cuts to the Department for Transport (12.5% to Transport for London).

These developments pose a huge danger to railway workers. One hundred years ago, railworkers did not have guaranteed hours of work. They were at the mercy of employers and the hours they chose to hand out each week. Paying the rent or feeding the family was dependant on crumbs from management’s table. One of the great wins of the historic 1919 national railway strike was the guaranteed week. The spread of casualisation threatens to set us back a century.

Agency working is increasing, but it is not new. Back in 1997, this publication wrote: “Off the Rails is in favour of taking agency workers into the union as a means of defending our conditions and improving theirs. The point is that if we don’t take them into the union they will be used to undermine our conditions, something that is already happening. We need to start speaking to agency staff and work out methods of effective unionisation.”

Our key demand has to be that railway companies stop using agencies and give the agency workers permanent employment. Kicking out the agencies must not mean kicking out the workers.

We can beat casualisation through a united fight across all grades and companies. We have to avoid the trap of allowing the bosses to turn temporary and permanent workers against each other. Permanent staff need to remember that it is not the agency or temporary workers who we have an argument with – it is the employers (both theirs and ours) who are exploiting them and undermining us.

And agency workers should not see permanent staff as a privileged elite, but as allies in the fight to get decent conditions and job security for all of us.