Rail unions

Fantasy Union of Rail and Transport Workers

What kind of union do we need? There are strengths and weaknesses in our current union set-up. Union officials will often have you believe that things can only be done the way they are done, because ... well, because they have always been done that way.

We do not agree. We have several criticisms of the existing rail unions, so it is only fair that we set out in more positive terms what our ideal union might look like. Let's call it the Fantasy Union of Rail and Transport Workers (FURT).

RMT halts ballot


Ollie Moore

Tube union RMT has halted a ballot of around 2,000 workers on London Underground, mainly in engineering grades.

The workers were being balloted for strikes to stop job cuts proposed as part of Transport for London’s “Transformation” scheme. The scheme also includes a proposal to outsource a section of waste disposal staff currently employed directly by London Underground.

The ballot had been due for return on 16 July. The union says it plans to rerun the ballot with an expanded electorate, as it believes the cuts may be more extensive than first thought.

Two workmates die in South Wales: Why is track working not safe?

Submitted by Off The Rails on Sat, 13/07/2019 - 23:34

The deaths of two track workers near Port Talbot on 3 July was a tragedy that could possibly have been avoided.  Initial reports are that the two workers were using loud equipment and relying on a touch lookout – someone who would tap them to warn them of approaching trains. Exactly why that didn’t happen is not likely to be clear for several months until the Rail Accident Investigation Board publish their report.  Some of the lessons to be learned are probably ones that could have been learnt already though. RAIB has published several reports into worrying near misses in recent years, and Network Rail has often not implemented the recommendations.

When track workers are required to go out and work on the line a system of work is designed to allow them to do so safely.  The safest method of working is “green zone”, where all train movements are stopped.  If that is considered impractical other arrangements have to be made, for example providing lookouts to warn workers of oncoming trains in enough time for them to move out of the way. This is referred to as “red zone” working. Plans are designed so that lookouts have sufficient sightlines, depending on the linespeed and the curvature of the track, to see trains and warn people while there is still a decent amount of time.  However, time and again Network Rail’s plans have not provided people with adequate protection.

RAIB published their annual report for 2018 a few months ago.  In it they detailed that Network Rail have so far failed to properly implement at least 8 recommendations into incidents where track workers were hit by trains or forced to dive out of the way at the last second, dating back to 2011. These include recommendations relating to planning of work, ensuring staff competency, and promoting a culture where people feel able to speak out about unsafe practices.

Following this annual report RAIB have also recently published reports into near misses at Peterborough and at Sundon. At Peterborough a lookout narrowly avoided being hit by a train as the planned system of lookout working wasn’t sufficient for the location. Staff under pressure to get the job done were left using unofficial hand signals over long distances, leading to confusion. RAIB also concluded Peterborough depot were using “red zone” working as the default. Network Rail is required to use the safest method, green zone, by default and only use red zone where nothing else is practical. This is a worrying reminder of the investigation into the death of a track worker at Newark North Gate in 2014, which also concluded that the most dangerous method of working was being used by default and without proper consideration of alternatives.

At Sundon the planned system of work was so vague about how to get to the worksite that the track workers ended up working on the “Up Slow” line, which was open to trains.  They had intended to go to the “Down Fast”, which was closed to traffic. This investigation has led to the RAIB writing to the Office of the Rail Regulator to request action. RAIB have not yet completed their investigation into the death of a track worker last November at Stoats Nest Junction, near Croydon.

The safest method of working on the tracks is to stop train movements. Network Rail has a duty to plan work so that this method is always used by default unless it is not feasible. This is, of course, rather unclear and leaves a lot of wriggle room. A large amount of work is still done with lines open to trains. At a minimum we should be demanding that the requirement to eliminate all other options is properly enforced.

Industrial news in brief


Ollie Moore

Tube workers fight job cuts

Tube workers are currently voting in an industrial action ballot, as the RMT union pushes back against job cuts proposed as part of the so-called “Transformation” process.

Nearly 2,000 workers are being balloted, including workers in engineering, signals, electrical, track, the London Underground Control Centre, and the Emergency Response Unit. “Transformation”, a sweeping restructure and job cuts plan, has already led to admin workers seeing their numbers slashed.

RMT activists oppose Lewis expulsion decision


Daniel Randall

The conference on 23-27 June of the rail union RMT passed, by a majority of two votes with six abstentions, a motion expelling left Labour MP Clive Lewis from the RMT’s Parliamentary Group.

The conference decided that Lewis should be expelled unless he retracts and apologises for the criticisms he made of comments by RMT member Eddie Dempsey from the platform of a “Full Brexit” rally.

RMT activists who oppose the decision are circulating a statement of protest, already signed by numerous AGM delegates as well dozens of other union activists.

RMT AGM debates politics


Daniel Randall, RMT Bakerloo Line branch AGM delegate (personal capacity)

The Annual General Meeting of the National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport workers (RMT), which took place in Manchester from 23-27 June, debated motions submitted by the union's branches, Industrial Organising Conferences, and equalities conferences. Many were consensual, with a majority passing unanimously. Others caused more controversy, and for reasons of space this report will focus largely on the contentious motions.

Northern Rail drivers: Vote No to the 'New Deal'!

Submitted by Off The Rails on Tue, 25/06/2019 - 22:19

In the ASLEF rulebook, rule 2 (a) states: "ASLEF is a registered trade union, it is part of the Labour and Trade Union Movement...". Rules 3.1 (VIII and XII) commit the union to assist in the furtherance of the labour movement towards a socialist society, and recognise that trade unionism is international and that the union should pursue solidarity with workers globally. Rule 3.3 provides for ASLEF aiding or joining with other organisations that have "within their objects the promotion of the interests of workers".

These rules - part of the Constitution and Objects of ASLEF - set out our union's commitment to the ideals of trade unionism. They are the first reason we must vote NO to the current "New Deal for Drivers" offer from Northern, supported by our Company Council and the union machine.

Despite what is said at the end of the recent Q&A document issued jointly by the company and union, this deal DOES take ASLEF away from the collective bargaining agreement as it relates to pay, where we are signed up to single table pay talks with the employer and the other unions RMT, TSSA and Unite. That last answer is utterly dishonest in its omission to mention this, focusing only on the fact that Drivers' Terms and Conditions are only negotiated at Drivers' Employee Council. This is a true statement but a deliberately incomplete answer to the question of whether or not "Collective Bargaining" has been "breached".

Clearly it has, as Drivers' annual pay increases are included in the offer, with inferior pay offers being made separately to the other unions representing the other grades. By voting for this deal, we are backing a clear statement from our representatives that the only party to the collective bargaining agreement that ASLEF respects is the employer, rather than our fellow trade unions, also members of the labour movement. We are being led across class lines into a collaboration with the bosses against our fellow workers - one of the most despicable things a so-called trade union can do.

While annual pay awards are included in this deal, a 'yes' vote is a vote to sell our soul as a trade union and runs in conflict with the basic ideals on which ASLEF is supposedly founded.

The second main reason we should vote NO is that this agreement, by virtue of deliberately vague wording, seeks to remove one of the key pillars of our industrial power as a grade.

Clause 10.4, concerning new technology, is deliberately more loosely worded than the clause in the original (East/ex-ATN) DRI document on which it is based.

The original DRI uses the following formula:

"Any proposed new technology, new trains or new equipment, including modifications to trains will be subject to appropriate consultation/negotiation with the Arriva Trains Northern Drivers Company Council prior to introduction."

The proposed revised clause reads:

"Drivers will accept advancements in technology through either active consultation or negotiation where it is demonstrated to enhance the operational delivery for The Company. The Company will work Driver Employee Council on the development of future technology."

The difference between consultation and negotiation is that the company can still impose whatever it wants after a consultation, whereas in a negotiation they need our agreement. By introducing this form of words, we are allowing the company to choose whether or not it wants to negotiate with us on the introduction of ANY new technology FOREVER.

Whilst the preceding clause 10.3 appears to specifically exclude anything involving the operation of train doors from this, there is literally NO LIMIT on whatever else this could include.

Having a right to agree all new technology is an important bargaining chip for us and the union, and can be used to help improve pay or to help resolve smaller issues by being 'awkward' until the company gives us something in return for our co-operation.

The union knows this is what the company is trying to do, we have reliable information that our representatives asked for this clause to be returned to its original form and the employer refused. Yet they are still advising us to vote for it, and other vague clauses (DTMs driving trains, etc) - why? See my earlier comments about selling our soul as a trade union.

The third reason to vote against is the sheer divisiveness of it. Everyone can agree on the benefits (increases in pay, shorter working week, longer guaranteed rest between shifts, average 4 day week) Drivers on the West (ex-FNW) side of the franchise are being asked to bring their Sundays inside their working week for what they seem almost universally to believe is not a fair price. They are also just as aware of the dangers of some of the loosely worded items in the proposed deal as the Drivers on the East who are looking beyond the money on offer. This is supposed to be a 'harmonisation' deal, yet by conducting the negotiations in secret without any consultation with the membership, it is causing massive division between people who are more or less affected, or people who prioritise certain benefits over others. It also divides the Council themselves - despite the pretence of unity behind it, we believe 4 out of the 9 of them actually oppose it - mainly those on the West.

If we vote for this shoddy deal, not only will we still be near the bottom of the 'league table' for pay in four years' time when the last year of the pay increases kick in, but we will still be bitter and divided, we will have worsened some of our terms and conditions of employment at the same time as hampering our bargaining power to improve them. On top of that, we will have shamed ourselves in the eyes of the labour movement of which we claim to be a part, and deepened the divisions between ourselves and the other workers in our industry.

We must vote NO.

Trade Unions

New guards’ strikes up the ante

RMT has upped the ante in the dispute against DOO on South Western Railway, by announcing a five day strike from 18-22 June.

Despite winning what appeared to be a “guard guarantee” in February via previous strikes, SWR bosses have dithered and have failed to implement an agreement to retain guards’ jobs. Naming new strikes is absolutely the right thing to do, and it’s absolutely right to go big. Incidental one-day strikes won’t get the goods: sustained action might.

Tube prepares to ballot


Ollie Moore

Tube union RMT is preparing to ballot its members across London Underground for industrial action, after talks with LU bosses over pay and conditions reached a dead end. Directly-employed Tube workers’ pay deal expired in April, with all four unions which organised on LU submitting claims which included the demand for a 32-hour week (most Tube workers currently work 35 or 36-hour contractual weeks). LU has refused to engage with these demands, offering first a 2.5% pay increase, then a two-year deal with RPI+0.1% and RPI+0.2% pay increases.

Network Rail: A Dismal Deal

Submitted by Off The Rails on Mon, 10/06/2019 - 13:45

RMT has accepted the lousy offer from Network Rail, as the majority of reps went along with the leadership's line that it was all that could be achieved for now, and that the union could break an offer it had signed up to at a later stage.

So Network Rail workers are now saddled with an RPI-only pay rise for the next two years, in other words a pay freeze in real terms. There are no significant improvements in working conditions, and an explicit statement that while there will be no compulsory redundancies for the next two years, this guarantee will end and not be renewed in 2021. Apparently, the union's plan is to fight compulsory redundancies once the policy barring them has expired.

The biggest disappointment is the lack of consideration of what could have been won by fighting for more. It is as though the extent of our ambitions is what we can persuade management of in talks. But management's job is to give us as little as possible, so if we limit ourselves to what they willingly offer, we will never get much!

RMT did not even put the offer out to a referendum of its members, feeling that because the reps had discussed and agreed it, the members did not need a direct say. Many members were preparing to vote No in a referendum, and are now shocked that their reps accepted the deal.

Alarmingly, RMT declared this result to be an 'inflation-busting' pay deal. It is not. The pay rise is exactly the RPI rate for the relevant month in each year. It is no higher. Yes, it 'busts' Grayling's pathetic attempt to link pay rises to CPI rather than RPI, but fighting off a real-terms pay cut in order to stand still is hardly 'inflation-busting'. It is dishonest to dress up this deal in this way.

There is no point denying that the acceptance of this is a major setback for Network Rail workers. We now have two years to turn this around. Although in our view, the strategy of agreeing to the end of the 'no compulsory redundancies' policy with the intention of reneging on two years' time is pretty daft, now the deal is done we will have no choice but to do this.

If we are to have any chance of defeating the job cuts that Network Rail is clearly preparing for 2021 onwards, we have to build union strength now. We can become strong enough to fight if we develop a belligerent attitude now, pushing for improvements in our working conditions locally as well as nationally, signing everyone up to the union, and developing activists and reps. This includes encouraging debate and discussion about strategies, learning from past mistakes, and not just going along with everything that union leaders say.

Off The Rails provides a platform for rank-and-file railworkers to share experiences and discuss tactics. Please add your comments and ideas.

Trade Unions

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