According to an article in the Times (12 May), “David Cameron is facing growing pressure to take on rail unions amid anger over workshy practices that are said to be putting the future of the network at risk.”
So it is the rail unions that are putting the network at risk, is it? Not according to the opinion, for example, of the Potter’s Bar accident enquiry judge. He recently ruled that “Overall responsibility for the breach of duty lay with Railtrack at senior management level and their failures were significant and extensive.”
The article continues that train companies are troubled by our unions insisting on “a rigid observance of health and safety regulations”! So how should we observe H&S if not rigidly? When he fined Network Rail £3 million for its part at Potters Bar the judge said that Railtrack’s standards and procedures were “seriously inadequate”. Is that the example that train companies want us to follow then, from one of their own? Is “seriously inadequate” good enough?
Perhaps one of the reasons that union members rigidly insist on H&S is that if we don’t apply the standards and procedures correctly we can lose our jobs. And I’ve seen that happen to workmates. How many senior managers at Railtrack lost their jobs because of Potters Bar? None! That makes it a bit easier to see where the different approaches between workers and managers to H&S come from. In addition, our judgement is not clouded by the bonus culture among senior management which gives them an incentive to cut corners.
According to a dossier of complaints by train companies H&S is one example of bitterly defended rights. Of course it is! We want people to be able to travel and work safely on the railways. Other “workshy practices” include a failure to embrace flexible working (split shifts, no breaks because of operational exigencies, etc) and drivers being paid a bonus to work overtime. We don’t mind “embracing” these things just as long as we are paid for the sacrifices we are making. If I am going to be making more money for a train company I’d like a share of it too.
But that is just what the government and employers don’t want to do. The government wants to reduce the subsidy it gives to the railway so that it can use the money saved to pay back the money it spent to bail out the banks. The companies know that subsidies will be reduced so in order to maintain their profits they want to attack our terms and conditions, employment law and health and safety regulations.
A blueprint, the McNulty Report, is due to be published during May.
The rail unions need to get together and discuss how to fight the attack, draw the membership into the fight and at the same time link up with all the other unions and local campaigns that are fighting similar attacks against the working class as a whole.
• McNulty: http://bit.ly/glg3rs
Workers on Heathrow Express, the fast train service linking the airport to central London, have voted to take strike action over a pay deal which RMT general secretary Bob Crow described as “loaded with strings”.
The period of the proposed deal includes the 2012 Olympics, during which Heathrow Express workers — along with other transport workers in and around London — can expect a significantly increased workload. There is a concern, therefore, to ensure that bosses are not allowed to get away with making their staff work harder for less. It is projected that nearly 800,000 extra people are expected to travel on London’s train networks during the Games.
In news that will undoubtedly please Boris Johnson and other senior Tories clamouring for new anti-union laws, the strike was approved by 95% of voting members on a turnout of over 80%, giving the strike a far more solid democratic mandate than Johnson himself possesses as Mayor of London.