We need to resist the Special Voluntary Severance Scheme (SVSS), currently being offered to Network Rail staff bands 1 to 4, because it spells job cuts on a massive scale across the rail industry. Network Rail is offering this one-off severance package until 20 September. It will almost certainly be rolled out to other grades in NR and to TOCs afterwards.
The scheme has come out of the Rail Industry Recovery Group. The government is funding it. What an incredible waste of public money! We're experiencing economic downtown and a climate crisis. The government should be funding green jobs. Instead, it is throwing money at reducing the workforce in one of the few green (or, at least, greener) industries this country has.
Some people might say, "Bands 1-4 are management grades. If savings are needed, then it makes sense to cut the non-productive office staff". But it's a mistake to lump band 1 managers on over £100k/year with band 4 staff on around £30k, many of whom are lower paid than frontline staff in ops and maintenance. Despite what some might think, many junior management jobs are worth fighting for. Timetabling, works planning, investigating safety incidents, inspecting level crossings... much of it is technical, tedious, but very important work and the railway wouldn't run as safely or efficiently without it. We need to protect jobs across the industry, not just frontline jobs.
The SVSS is the worst of all possible job cuts proposals. It doesn't attempt to target savings or create a more efficient organisation. It's a free-for-all, where employees get to decide whether to stay or go. Yes, it's good that no-one is being forced out of the door (yet). But who will choose to go? People who are overworked and demoralised, in the lower bands, where staff are already short. Or perhaps older, experienced people who stand to make a bit more from the scheme. This will leave chaos for those of us left behind, with shortages in terms of skills, experience, and staff in all the wrong places.
The scheme will not weed out the highest earners, where there are real savings to be made. Network Rail is top heavy. Between 2020 and 2021, the number of managers on over £100k a year increased from 368 to 425, after a costly reorganisation that created new Routes and Regions, each with their own Managing Director and leadership teams.
Earlier this year TSSA published the salaries of Network Rail's top brass, revealing that "the top 73 highest earners at Network Rail earn a combined total of £15 million per year." The SVSS will not challenge the pay inflation at the top of Network Rail. If you're a Route Managing Director on £300k a year, you're not going anywhere.
TSSA has entered dispute with Network Rail. But it does not seem committed to fighting job cuts per se, it just wants "collective bargaining" and "full and meaningful discussions" about how the job cuts are being made. It is preparing to ballot for industrial action if Network Rail won't enter talks.
The RMT executive has said that the SVSS "falls far short of our existing agreements on company reorganisations". It has advised employers who implement this scheme that they are "doing so without the endorsement or agreement of this union.” So RMT is objecting to the terms and process, rather than the job cuts themselves. It has said, "Any attempt by the employers to push towards compulsory redundancies will be categorically resisted".
Our unions need to see the bigger picture. It's not about whether these job cuts are compulsory or the terms of severance. It's about saving the industry from a government-funded attack on transport as a public service. It's about whether we buy the government line that public transport is a drain on public finances or believe it's a vital site for investment to tackle the climate crisis. If we let these jobs go without a fight, then the Government and employers will come back for more and more across the industry.
Let's say no to the Special Voluntary Severance Scheme and push our unions to fight the job cuts.