The UK rail industry, supported by the Department for Transport, plans to move most or all passenger trains to Driver Only Operation (DOO) — meaning trains operate with only the driver on board, no guards or other staff. This method of working is already in place across London Underground and on some parts of the main line (National Rail).
Any increase in DOO will have negative consequences for jobs and passenger safety and pile more stress and responsibility on those staff who do keep their jobs. Rail worker unions ASLEF and RMT issued a joint statement at the end of last year which committed both unions to a unified fight against any extension of DOO and to work towards reinstating the role of guard/conductor on those services and routes where it has already been introduced. The first test of this commitment since the statement was released is coming at Gatwick Express, where Govia Thameslink Railway is trying to introduce new 12 car trains which are longer than the existing ones that are currently Driver-Only operated over those routes. ASLEF is now balloting its members at Gatwick Express and Southern for industrial action in response to the company’s plan to impose this increase in DOO working.
Drivers have also been refusing to operate the new trains, or have been taking them on their timetabled journeys but refusing to operate the doors at stations, leaving passengers unable to board. Success on the Gatwick Express would be an important first step towards winning the fight against DOO, but we know that more attacks are coming elsewhere on the network. We know that plans are afoot to increase DOO on Scotrail and to introduce it at Great Western. Perhaps the biggest battles over DOO will come on the biggest franchise in the UK — Northern. On 1 April control of this franchise was passed from a consortium of Serco and Abellio to Arriva Rail North Limited, part of the Arriva Group, which is in turn owned by DB Schenker.
The Department for Transport’s Franchise Specification document placed an obligation on the winning franchise to move at least 50% of its services to DOO. Not much has changed at Northern yet, aside from the logo and the name, but we know what is coming. Brand new and ″refreshed″ trains are being ordered that will bring huge improvements to capacity and comfort for passengers and staff... but probably be fitted with some or all of the equipment necessary for DOO. Rumours are circulating amongst staff that the company is likely to offer substantial pay increases to drivers in return for ″increased productivity″ concessions such as agreement to run services on Boxing Day or, crucially, to operate train doors.
ASLEF and RMT need to continue to provide strong leadership to oppose such moves, as Northern drivers are among the lowest paid train drivers on the network and therefore more vulnerable to attacks using these tactics. If the government and train operators succeed in introducing DOO on Northern, they will be emboldened to force it through on every part of the network, meaning more job losses and decreased safety everywhere. It would also be a huge defeat for organised labour in what is one of the last remaining industries with relatively high union density and militancy. Rank and file trade unionists in ASLEF and RMT will need to ensure that their leaders do not waver on this. No DOO, no compromise!
Work conditions in the Merchant Navy
A former cadet in the Merchant Navy (the name for UK-registered commercial ships and their staff), told Solidarity what his work was like.
I decided to join the Merchant Navy because I thought it would give me better prospects and a more worthwhile outcome than going to study at university. My sponsoring company paid for all my training fees and then gave me a training allowance on top of that. College was stressful but I enjoyed it and I enjoyed the work very much. My training was on a bulk carrier; we discharged corn in South East Asia and then sailed to Australia to pick up bauxite (aluminium ore). After delivering that to China we took on soya bean meal (animal feed) and took that back to South East Asia. As a cadet some of the work rules did not apply to me. I was given jobs by the Chief Officer that breached health and safety and the company’s own internal rules. The ratings, the general support staff, who work all over the ship, were all from the Philippines. They were never overworked. However, they were made to do a lot of overtime.
I did some calculations whilst I was on ship and worked out that 20 hours of their overtime was not logged and they were not paid for it. In fact there were many rules posted up in the ship by the company that were ignored. For instance, Sunday was supposed to be a day off (Filipinos are strong Christians), but after there was a change of Captain and Chief Officer they only had two Sundays off at most during my five months on board. The new Captain also stopped the tradition of an on-deck barbeque on a Sunday and “rewards” for hard work/overtime, such as extra cigarettes from the ship’s store.
This kind of treatment made me not enjoy my time at sea and I wanted to leave. I was honestly scared of the Chief. This made me not want to do the work and I lost will power. I really only did the lowest of menial tasks, and almost none of the work that was required as part of my cadetship. Once a month we would have a safety meeting organised by the Captain and Chief, but there was no union organisation that I was aware of.
Cinema workers fight back
BECTU members at the Rio cinema in Dalston, east London, will ballot for strikes over a long running pay dispute. Workers at the Rio have not had a pay rise since 2012. Front of house workers and cleaners are on £6.91 per hour and are some of the lowest paid cinema workers in London. On top of that workers at the Rio were forced into a pay cut in 2013 when 10% of wages were deducted to help keep the cinema afloat. They were promised that it would be repaid later but only half of it has been. Workers at the Rio have only recently won union recognition for BECTU after the company went to a lot of trouble to try and keep the union out.
In March 2015 the union went to the Central Arbitration Committee and won the right to collective union representation, but in July 2015 they had to return to the CAC as management kept refusing any meaningful collective bargaining method. BECTU members submitted their pay claim originally in October 2015 and asked for: a staged journey over three years towards the Living Wage for all FOH/cleaning staff (who are in band 1); an increase for staff in the next two salary bands (bands 2 and 3); and the reimbursement of the remaining wages deducted from staff in 2013.
When submitting the original pay claim BECTU members at the Rio said: “In the Rio’s centenary year, we feel it is fitting to recognise the achievements of the cinema but also to recognise the staff who are the life-blood of the company. Currently we are some of the lowest paid cinema staff in London, lagging behind the big chains like Odeon on £7.30ph and Cineworld on £7.70ph [and] comparable independent cinemas like The Prince Charles whose hourly rate is £7.85.”
A consultative ballot in March showed 94% of BECTU members in favour of strikes, on an 83% turnout. The result of the strike ballot is expected soon.
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