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It's Not About The Doors!

Exposing DfT/Govia Lies

THERE CAN BE  NO JUSTIFICATION FOR EXTENDING DOO UNDER AN “EXCEPTIONAL CIRCUMSTANCES” AGREEMENT – HOWEVER SHORT THE LIST OF EXCEPTIONS

The RMT Union is rightly continuing its campaign of industrial action to secure a second Safety Qualified person on all services which operated in that mode prior to August 2016 and last week announced two further strike dates on the 3rd and 5th of October. GTR’s refusal to accept that a guaranteed second person is essential on these services has stalled any peace talks with the RMT and therefore begs the question what is the most ASLEF can hope to achieve from their ongoing talks?

 ASLEF are involved in negotiating on three separate issues: pay award, terms and conditions and GTR’s forced introduction of DOO across the network. The drivers’ pay award, and terms and conditions, are matters which they should get addressed successfully in these talks. The stumbling block, as everyone recognises, is the issue of DOO.

GTR have been clear that any talks to resolve the dispute can only take place providing the unions agree to ratify the company’s right to operate DOO across the entire network. Operating DOO in the previous non-DOO area is very different to operating on the Brighton mainline due to the number of  remote and unstaffed stations. This is why any proposed agreement which concedes DOO under “exceptional circumstances”*** in the previous non-DOO area should be rejected. Operating DOO under the conditions which exist over these routes seriously undermines the Safety, Accessibility and Security of the network with serious implications for both customers and staff.

***It is worth noting that the existing “exceptional circumstances” agreement in operation on the Mainline is, in the view of many drivers, consistently abused by the company.

“We are completely opposed to Driver Only Operation and its forms, including Driver Controlled Operation(DCO)/Drive Door Operation (DDO), throughout the network.

We firmly believe this method of operation is less safe for passengers and the workforce and our unions will not agree to the extension of DOO or DCO/DDO under any circumstances”.

Mick Whelan, ASLEF General Secretary, November 2015

Rally in Westminster backing Southern Railway workers in conductors' dispute - Copy

The only concession GTR will make to ASLEF in these talks will be a reduction in the number of “exceptional circumstances” under which services will operate DOO. This is a concession that GTR will gladly make as they are aware that the actual number of exceptions  is meaningless and what matters is getting ASLEF to concede that the entire network can be operated under DOO. At present GTR having enforced this extension of  DOO and having ignored the rail unions’ warnings that it is an unsafe practise, face being  held to account when a serious incident happens. If GTR can secure the agreement of ASLEF and Southern drivers for this method of operation then when any safety of the line incident occurs or a disabled, elderly or vulnerable customer is adversely effected they can rightly claim that the method of operation has been ratified as acceptable and safe by the ASLEF union and its members.

There are no benefits for rail customers or frontline staff in such an agreement hence why this approach was discounted by the RMT over a year ago.

“So there is no dubiety it is the policy of my organisation that there will be no agreement to extend DOO anywhere and even if DCO is agreed by other trade unions we will not be agreeing this method of operation either.” 
Mick Whelan, ASLEF General Secretary, 24 September 2015.

 The “exceptional circumstances” under which DOO will be allowed to operate will be when the service is degraded i.e. fatality, broken rail, failed train, signal problems etc., meaning that drivers will be forced to operate under DOO mode at the very time they require a second safety qualified person on board the most.

It will mean drivers having to operate services DOO on late night coastway services which have been badly disrupted. Those services will be more crowded than normal and some of the customers will be drunk. This is a combination which leads to anti-social and aggressive behaviour, leaving the disabled, elderly, vulnerable and the driver at risk.

Any driver working under these conditions will be faced with making ‘damned if I do, damned if I don’t’ decisions. If a customer who requires assistance is waiting to board a late night service at an unstaffed station in the middle of winter what decision does the Driver make:

A) informs control and leaves the customer at the station which may lead to serious safety/ health consequences for the customer and legal consequences for the driver.

B) Assists the customer on to the service fully aware that there is a drunk/rowdy element already on board or may board at any station and is also fully aware that there is no second member of staff on board to help ensure the customers safety. Again this decision may have serious consequences for the customers’ safety/ health and legal consequences for the driver.

“I believe Southern are suggesting that disabled people in England ring up 24 hours in advance of when they want to travel. The whole basis of the industry is ‘step on and go’. The idea that sectors of our community should have to book in advance when others don’t is anathema to me. Everybody should have the same access and rights to get on and off a train.”

Mick Whelan, ASLEF General Secretary

Another likely scenario the driver will have to deal with is an emergency alarm activated by a frightened customer due to fighting on board the service which could result in serious injuries being inflicted. Does the driver:

A) Call for police assistance and remain in the cab for the 10/20/40 minutes it takes for assistance to arrive leaving the disabled, elderly and vulnerable at the mercy of the yobs.

B) Call for police assistance but leave the cab to check on the disabled/elderly/vulnerable customers placing themselves at considerable risk of serious assault.

C) Continue to run the service until reaching a staffed station despite having being made aware that fighting was taking place. Should a customer sustain a serious injury they may take legal action against the driver.

It is clear whatever decision the driver makes will have health/safety consequences for the customers along with safety/legal consequences for the driver. Having a second member of crew on board allows situations such as these to be monitored and action to be taken before the anti social behaviour spirals out of control. Drivers on their own will not be aware until the situation has escalated to a dangerous level placing both themselves and the customers they have responsibility for at serious risk

These and many other similar scenarios caused by fire, terrorism, collision etc., will have to be faced by Drivers should ANY “exceptional circumstances” be agreed which allows DOO to be operated in what was the previous non-DOO area.

There is no benefit in reducing the list of exceptional circumstances when just one exception would give rise to the afore mentioned scenarios.

“I haven’t seen one company director in the past 20 years who has got a fiduciary responsibility hauled in to the dock, had their job taken away or go to prison for it – but I have seen it happen to guards, platform staff and drivers.”

Mick Whelan, Aslef General Secretary

It would seem outrageous if someone was to suggest that you would only permit a method of operation when circumstances dictated that it was the worst possible time to do so, yet that is the reality of allowing DOO under “exceptional circumstances”. When services and stations are at their busiest, when there is the greatest level of confusion amongst both staff and passengers, when the needs of the disabled elderly and vulnerable are at there greatest, at the very time when having a second person on board is essential to enable the driver to operate the service safely, this is the time the driver is forced  to operate the services DOO.

The company’s reason for pursuing this strategy is evident. They will be securing trade union ratification for their DOO operation. Should/when an incident occurs they will point to the fact that the method of operation has been agreed with the union and union members. They will also be successfully implementing the strategy devised by Peter Wilkinson for controlling the rail unions and getting them to “toe the line” thereby providing the conditions for the dismantling of the drivers’ terms and conditions and destaffing the network as demanded by the McNulty Report.

“I am calling on the train companies to stop taking staff off trains and stations, putting profits before passengers , and ensure all of our railway is safe”.

Mick Whelan, ASLEF General Secretary, August 2017

There is however no logic in the union pursuing this strategy unless there is a belief that turkeys really should vote for Christmas. It is a strategy which will not only achieve THE DfT’s GOAL in weakening the unions but will at the same time seriously compromise Safety Accessibility and Security on the network.

IT COULD BE YOUR SON, YOUR DAUGHTER, YOUR MOTHER OR YOUR FATHER, YOUR PARTNER, YOUR HUSBAND OR YOUR WIFE, YOUR FRIEND OR YOUR NEIGHBOUR WHO IS PUT AT RISK BY THE ACCEPTANCE OF ANY DEAL WHICH COMPROMISES RAIL SAFETY.

“Southern says DOO is safe. It isn’t”.

Mick Whelan, ASLEF General Secretary, January 2017

THE ONLY WAY OF ENSURING A SAFE, ACCESSIBLE AND SECURE RAIL SERVICE IS WITH THE GUARANTEE OF A SECOND SAFETY QUALIFIED PERSON ON EVERY SERVICE WORKED BY A CONDUCTOR PRIOR TO AUGUST 2016  – NO EXCEPTIONS. 

SUPPORT THE STRIKE ACTION ON THE 3RD AND 5TH OF OCTOBER. IT IS ONLY BY STANDING UNITED THAT WE CAN PROTECT THE INTERESTS OF THE TRAVELLING PUBLIC AND FRONTLINE STAFF.

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HOW INDEPENDENT IS THE OFFICE OF RAIL AND ROAD?

PASSENGER NUMBERS HAVE DOUBLED IN THE PAST 20 YEARS. SO, AREN’T THE DANGERS REGARDING DOO AND THE PLATFORM-TRAIN INTERFACE MORE SERIOUS THAN EVER?

The government statistics on overcrowding released last week show that many Southern Rail services are now carrying more than twice the number of passengers they were designed for.

With today’s overflowing trains and platforms one has to ask why DOO – a system originally brought in for freight and empty trains – is now part of a government policy being driven aggressively nationwide.

Is the ORR’s authority to oversee rail safety compromised by it being part of the rail industry?

The ORR (Office of Rail and Road) are aware of many facts – including overcrowding – that indicate that DOO is not the safest method of operation. So, why did they allow it to be rolled out across the Southern network, especially when the camera equipment on the 377s is of such very poor quality?

Why too, do they seem to have ignored the buried 2015 report “ON TRACK FOR 2020: THE FUTURE OF ACCESSIBLE RAIL TRAVEL” and the figures released by the British Transport Police that between May 2016 and March 2017 there were 83 reports of sexual assault on Southern Rail – all in the context of reports that show how overcrowded Southern services are at present and the predictions for worse to come in the future?

In December 2006, responsibility for Rail Safety was removed from the independent Health and Safety Inspectorate and brought “in house” under the ORR.

The decision to place responsibility for Rail Safety “in house” under the ORR was made when the Strategic Rail Authority was scrapped in December 2006.

In July 2004, Bill Callaghan, Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission had highlighted the dangers of taking the policing of Rail Safety away from the Health and Safety Executive and making it the responsibility of a regulator beholden to the Secretary of State for Transport and the Train Operating Companies.

A decade later, we are in a situation where the Secretary of State for Transport and the Train Operating Companies view DOO as a means of  de-staffing  the railway and weakening the unions, which in turn cuts costs and makes the industry attractive to private investors. The ORR is financed through these Train Operating Companies, and all members of its board are appointed by the Secretary of State for Transport.

As predicted by the Health and Safety Commission, the ORR has seemed powerless to stand in the way of the aggressive imposition of DOO on Southern Rail. How can the ORR possibly ensure the safety of the rail network when it is not itself independent from the rail industry?

The detrimental impact of taking Rail Safety away from the independent Health and Safety Inspectorate and putting it “in house” under the ORR was highlighted in the following statement made by the Health and Safety Commission Chairman in July 2004:

Commenting on the fact that “Responsibility for safety on the railways would move from the Health and Safety Commission’s (HSC) executive arm – the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – to the Office of Rail Regulation”, HSC chairman Bill Callaghan said: “The commission is naturally disappointed with this decision. It is our firm belief safety regulation should be independent of its industry and any regulator should have teeth to be able to enforce measures where necessary.”

It is clear that the danger of allowing a “toothless” body to have responsibility for Rail Safety  was recognised from the outset by the Health and Safety Commission. Is it because their 2004 warning was not heeded that we find ourselves in this position today?

IN THE ABSENCE OF AN INDEPENDENT REGULATOR PROFITS WILL ALWAYS COME BEFORE SAFETY

IF SAFETY IS TO BE PRIORITISED BEFORE PROFITS THEN THE ORR NEEDS TO BE REMOVED AS THE ENFORCING BODY AND THAT RESPONSIBILITY RETURNED TO THE HEALTH AND SAFETY EXECUTIVE

 

SOUTHERN DRIVERS’ ACTION IS NOT OVER PAY

ASLEF/RMT ANNOUNCE DRIVER STRIKE ACTION ON THE 1st 2nd & 4th of AUGUST AS THE DFT/GTR WAGE WAR ON THE RAIL UNIONS 

With the announcement of 3 days of strike action it is important that we recognise what has triggered this escalation in the long running dispute. ASLEF suspended their industrial action and entered into talks with GTR at the start of June to try and make progress on three issues, terms and conditions, industrial relations and their 2016 pay talks.

The Union was clear from the outset that the pay talks must be separate from any DOO discussions. Mick Whelan, ASLEF General Secretary, stated that there would be “parallel but separate talks”.

Despite this clear statement by Mick Whelan the pay offer tabled by GTR contained the following clause:

‘these increases are linked to the following changes in driver working practises and terms and conditions, and is made on the basis that:

  1. Driver Only Operation
·Driver only Operation is confirmed as the standard mode of operation for Southern and Gatwick Express Drivers, where the train is equipped with in cab CCTV and the track and signalling infrastructure meets the relevant standards for DOO operation.’

This transparent attempt by GTR to bully Drivers by withholding their 2016 pay award unless they agreed to end their long running dispute over the imposition of DOO was rejected immediately by the ASLEF National Executive. A decision which was overwhelmingly ratified by the Drivers in the recent ballot leading to the announcement of the 3 days of strike action.

It is GTR who must be held responsible for this escalation in industrial action. To secure a wage offer to address their members’ 2016 wage claim Aslef were faced with the stark choice of abandoning their national policy and surrendering their fight against the imposition of DOO or balloting their members for strike action. This clause made it impossible for ASLEF to accept the wage offer without ratifying DOO. GTR/DFT knew that by inserting this clause into the offer they would make it impossible for ASLEF to do anything other than reject it as it would be a breach of union policy.

The DFT/GTR knew that by making a wage offer which the ASLEF leadership would be forced to reject would give them the opportunity to convince drivers that the union had denied them a 23.8% wage rise. Their hope was to turn Southern drivers against the union causing fatal damage to ASLEF on Southern. This and the other attempts to undermine the unions is all part of the long term DFT strategy outlined by Peter Wilkinson in February 2016 when he said he would kick the unions out of his industry.

The strike action announced by ASLEF is not about securing an improved financial package but is in response to this attempt by the DFT/GTR to undermine the union. The DFT/GTR believed that combining the acceptance of DOO with the wage offer put them in a win win position. ASLEF’s rejection of the pay offer would either incense drivers causing internal disputes leading to a seriously weakened Union, or the drivers would support the union in their rejection of the offer allowing the DFT /GTR to isolate them and demonise them in the eyes of other rail staff and the travelling public by portraying them as militant and greedy.

It is important that it is recognised that the rejection of this offer by the ASLEF National Executive and the vote for industrial action by Southern drivers is to be welcomed by everyone who wants to see a Safe, Accessible and Secure rail network.

The catalyst for three days of strike action in August is not greed on the part of Southern drivers but the contempt Peter Wilkinson and his friends at the DFT have for Trade Unions and his obsession with “kicking them out of his industry”. Wilkinson knows that he must first weaken the rail unions before the DFT can implement their plans to run the network on a skeleton staff which will allow them to maximise profits at the cost of safety, accessibility and security. Wilkinson and his kind want to run an industry without having to deal with unions continually challenging them about the safety of passengers, the rights of the disabled and the Terms and Conditions of their members, an industry run for the benefit of private investors not for the benefit of the travelling public.

If further proof was needed to confirm that the DFT and the Government are behind this de-staffing of the rail network and the war on the rail unions then take note of the latest  reported comments made by Chancellor Philip Hammond at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday 11th July 2017. It was reported in the press that he was trying to make a point about how easy the job of driving a train had become, saying “even they (women) can do it”. The story is being reported due to his comments being clearly sexist but the question that needs to be asked is what was the Chancellor doing at a Cabinet meeting devaluing the role of the train driver? This comment by Hammond confirms discussions are taking place at Cabinet level to attack rail staff and their unions. The only other explanation would be that this is Hammond’s answer to the possibility of a skills crisis post Brexit, short of neurosurgeons “don’t worry it’s so easy even women can do it”, short of nuclear physicists “don’t worry it’s so easy even women can do it”, short of rich, fat cat loving, worker hating elitists” don’t worry there is Philip Hammond and 315 of his smug Tory mates  who can fill the role” (please note this figure is predicted to drop dramatically after the next election ).

These comments made in a Cabinet meeting highlight that the attacks on the rail unions are know being orchestrated by this discredited Tory Government at the highest level while the sexist element to Hammond’s comments illustrates how well suited  the Tories are to their coalition partners the DUP, truly a marriage made in hell.

It is vitally important that we get this message out to counter the Government led anti-union propaganda which is now being aimed at the ASLEF/RMT Southern Drivers for their action planned for August. They are already condemning the greed of ASLEF for rejecting a 23.8% pay offer but are conveniently forgetting to mention that it was only offered if they ended their dispute over the imposition of DOO. It is essential that everyone who wants to see a Safe, Accessible and Secure rail network understands that we can only win this battle if we ensure that they fail in their attempt to isolate Southern Drivers. This is a dispute planned by the Government, the DFT and GTR in an attempt to divide and weaken the rail unions and to discredit them in the eyes of the Disability Groups, Commuter Groups and the Travelling Public. We need to ensure that we make use of all means available to us to counter their misinformation with the truth. Providing we can remain united and retain the support of those who are reliant on the rail industry we will be successful.

 

GUARD/OBS STRIKE UPDATE 7th JULY

As we approach our next strike date on the 10th of July I thought it would be appropriate to give a pre strike update.

I think it is important in this email that I answer three questions which are frequently asked in mess rooms by Members.

A) Is there still a point to the dispute.

B) Is it time for the RMT to recognise the OBS grade.

C) What has happened about the extra day’s money GTR stopped for the first day of strike action back in April 2016 and the European holiday pay. 

A. 
The vast majority of members recognise that there is a very real need to progress the dispute, both to protect the interests of the travelling public and our own working environment. Recent events have shown that security on the rail network is of paramount importance. There can be no justification for removing the second person from trains when their on board presence can play such a vital role in rail security. We have argued from April 2016 that Conductors play a vital role on the railway.  It is time for the DFT and GTR to recognise that  in light of recent events de-staffing of  the Rail Network will no longer be deemed as acceptable by the travelling public.

There is also the issue of accessibility, which has been given added emphasis by the ATOC report which has just been released (unearthed by ABC commuter group) which was completed in 2015. This report titled “ON TRACK FOR 2020? THE FUTURE OF ACCESSIBLE RAIL TRAVEL” highlights the need for a second person on board train services to enable access for the disabled and elderly customers and to ensure that they are given the necessary assistance at times of disruption. The report recognises that without a Conductor on board the disabled and elderly are unable to access rail services and when they are travelling on DOO services they are left in a vulnerable position when operating incidents occur. This at a time when GTR accept that they are running an additional 156 services a week or approximately 8000 additional services a year DOO due to non availability of OBS. I am sure we can all imagine what this figure will rise to in the future.

The need for a Safe Accessible and Secure rail network has never been more essential and it is only the courage and determination you have shown in continuing the fight over the past 14 months that has provided the time necessary for the tide to turn in favour of a properly staffed rail network. The length of time we have been fighting has allowed the political landscape to change, allowed ASLEF back into the dispute, allowed Reports to be unearthed and has allowed public opinion to swing against those who would put profits before safety. It has been your commitment over the past 14 months that has kept the dispute alive and with it the opportunity to get the vital issues of Safety Accessibility and Security addressed.

ALL THE TIME WE ARE FIGHTING THEY HAVE NOT WON  

We all understand from past experience we need a strong Union to defend our rights at work and secure a suitable working environment.

We were all afforded a glimpse into how we will be managed in the future when Managers were rostered to stand on remote platforms to monitor that Conductors were operating 313’s from the middle panel. This is a clear indication of how all staff can expect to be managed going forward. Penalty Fare training is underway for those in the OBS role and many consider that once the training is complete  the Company will compel staff to carry out the role of lone working RPO’s (irrespective of what the Company are telling staff at present). Any failure to meet what the Company consider to be a suitable level of issued Penalty fares will result in members being managed out of the job and anyone reporting that they have suffered assaults when attempting to issues penalty fares will be deemed unsuited to the role and again will be managed out of the job. This will also impact on Conductors as ticketing must be done in a consistent fashion (Condition 2 of the National Conditions of Carriage) therefore an instruction will have to be made that only standard fares can be issued on board services, apart from exceptional circumstances. As with the OBS any Conductor who fails to comply will find themselves managed out of the job. The future treatment of Conductors and OBS will be far removed from what we are used to today.

If we are to ensure that we can work in an environment where we can be assured of safe working practices and have the right to be treated with dignity and respect then it is essential that we continue with the dispute.

B)
I think everyone can understand the frustrations of having to work in a role which is yet to be recognised. I am an OBS and like the rest of you take exception to having to work in a role which was imposed on us. However the RMT recognising the OBS role would not make the many issues we face disappear. It will not suddenly mean that GTR can cover weekend work and you will no longer have to face extended weekend diagrams. The diagrams are extended because GTR have insufficient staff to cover the work at weekends and this and other issues would not disappear should the RMT recognise the grade.

What will disappear if the grade is recognised is the dispute. Recognising the grade entails accepting that we no longer have a dispute with GTR, thus surrendering the fight for a Safe Accessible and Secure network and leaving us in a weakened position when we try to address the worst aspects of our enforced Terms and Conditions. Without the voice of a strong Union to fight for our collective rights do you really believe that anything will change for the better. Do you honestly believe that GTR will suddenly realise that their approach to employee welfare has been misguided and that you will find yourself working in an environment where you are treated with dignity and respect.

If you don’t believe that GTR will act in such a benevolent manner then you understand why recognising the OBS grade at present would be disastrous for those employed in the role.

I am sure like myself you look forward to the day that negotiations can begin so that we can address the imposed Terms and Conditions of the role but it is essential that this only happens at the appropriate time if we are to secure the best possible future for the grade.

C)
To address the issue of the “extra days” deduction and of the European holiday back pay  would involve the Union in costly Court action. The Union made the decision that it was better to pay money out direct to the members in strike pay rather than in Court costs. I think this was the correct decision. In the case of the holiday pay this is money which the Company will have to pay you in full in the future and as for the ” extra day” deduction this is something we can take up at the end of the dispute. What is important is that available Union funds are paid to the members to sustain the action and not paid out in solicitor fees.

Monday the 10th of July is an important day in our dispute. It is essential that as many members as possible attend the picket lines. It is a day which can be used for promoting the petition started by disabled activists on disabled access that Head Office distributed  to members this week. It would be an idea if every Picket line Supervisor had a copy  for the public to sign.

Any staff considering if they should cross Monday’s picket line should remember this statement by the Company:

“I WANT TO THANK ALL OF YOU WHO HAVE BEEN WORKING NORMALLY THROUGH THE DISPUTE. YOUR SUPPORT FOR OUR PASSENGERS HAS GIVEN MYSELF AND COLLEAGUES THE RESOLVE TO CARRY ON WITH OUR PLANS AND CONTINUE TO TRY ENDING THE DISPUTE.”

The choice on Monday the 10th of July is stark . Recognise the picket lines and in doing so help to achieve a Safe Accessible and Secure Rail network or attend work and give GTR the resolve to carry on with their plans. 

 

DISPUTE UPDATE

The suspension of ASLEF’s work to rule amid rumours of disharmony in their ranks and their decision to discuss  the imposition of DOO at the same time as their pay talks should be a concern to everyone  who want to secure a safe railway.

From the outset of this dispute Southern Drivers have been adamant that talks to address the issue of the imposition of DOO must be kept separate from the issue of their Pay Deal. It was recognised that any resolution to the DOO issue must not be seen as a trade off for a pay rise or improvements in Terms and Conditions. The message put out to the travelling public from both the RMT and ASLEF was that this dispute was about Rail Safety not about greedy Unions holding the public to ransom to achieve inflation busting pay deals.

The justification for this sudden change of direction seems confused at best. The reasons given are that there was a sudden realisation that their bargaining hand was getting weaker as they were doing DOO across the network without any agreement in place. The argument that their bargaining position was getting weaker is difficult to understand when they were only days away from the start of an overtime ban. For months there have been complaints by Drivers that their Executive was not calling action, yet when the Executive eventually sanction action the local depots call for urgent talks with the Company resulting in the action being suspended. This action, had it gone ahead, even without 100% support, would have applied tremendous pressure to GTR the DFT and Tory politicians about to defend marginal seats on the 8th of June. This was a very real opportunity to compel GTR to negotiate responsibly. The action would have considerably strengthened ASLEF’s bargaining position not weakened it. GTR achieving the suspension of the action has handed Tory politicians in marginal constituencies a “get out of jail free card” which they will repay with the introduction of legislation to further restrict the ability of Rail Unions to both protect their members and the safety of the rail network.

It is also hard to understand the blind panic that ensued when Reps were shown the new cameras the Company are installing. It can come as no surprise to anyone that cameras are available that will produce crystal clear images. Why this revelation should be considered as the “straw that broke the camels back” of ASLEF’s resistance to the imposition of DOO, beggars belief. To the best of my knowledge the cameras do not allow Drivers to see through people on crowded platforms (according to the Company passenger numbers have doubled in the last twelve years and set to continue growing), nor do they sober up drunks, or anticipate the actions of the less predictable in society including young children or deal with the many other issues which occur at the platform/train interface. We should not feel threatened by the installation of the best possible cameras we should be demanding them. Cameras giving crystal clear images should be seen as a benefit to safe train dispatch but it also needs to be recognised that cameras alone do not provide adequate safeguards at the platform/train interface due to the increased passenger numbers that have been seen in recent years and the increases predicted in the future.

It would appear that a combination of the many months of ASLEF membership getting no positive leadership from their Executive and the attacks their Reps were subjected to at their conference two weeks ago, over rest day working, has led them to this position where they lack the confidence to continue the dispute. The emails sent to their Executive asking for the imposition of DOO to be dealt with collectively with Pay Talks and T&C’s were not a statement of strength rather they were sent in the (MISTAKEN) belief that any strength they had was ebbing away and they required a quick solution to their problems. Whatever the intention of the resolution it’s impact will be to contaminate our dispute in peoples minds, particular in the minds of the travelling public, our fight to secure a safe railway will be labelled as a fight that was “ALL ABOUT THE MONEY“.

It is this perceived lack of strength that has led to this position being adopted, a perceived lack of strength that is being cultivated by some in the ASLEF ranks to ensure Pay Talks take priority over the fight for a safe railway. ASLEF Drivers still have tremendous power they just need to find the unity and courage to use it. What we as RMT members must  hope for is that some of the many leaders that are evident within the driving grade will step forward to support their local Reps. This would hopefully enable everyone to recognise the importance that talks regarding the imposition of DOO are kept entirely separate from pay talks and that any proposal put out to referendum will ensure that we are operating a Safe, Accessible and Secure Rail Network by guaranteeing a second Safety qualified person on the trains in question without exception.

THE WAY FORWARD

It is time for GTR to sit down with both Unions to sort the mess out. The present situation is unacceptable. On Monday the 5th of June, to enable them to avert an overtime ban by the Drivers, GTR have agreed not to run any train, away from the Brighton Main Line, without a second person on board.  To enable this, GTR have decided to remove staff off Brighton Main Line services to ensure Coastway services are covered. With the present level of security risk, particularly in the London area, this should be of great concern to everyone. It is an example of GTR firefighting problems rather than sitting down and negotiating responsibly to achieve a long term desirable outcome which addresses the risks faced by today’s rail network.

There can no longer be any doubt regarding the absolute necessity for a second safety qualified person on the trains, the debate that needs to take place is around how this is achieved along with the timescale required to introduce it in a responsible manner and the skill set that the second person requires to adequately meet the demands of today’s rail network.

The need for us to be successful in our fight to achieve a Safe Accessible and Secure Rail Network becomes more important each passing day. For us to achieve our goal we need maintain the solidarity that has taken us this far.

IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE MONEY

Yesterday ASLEF put forward their latest initiative to resolve their dispute with GTR. This latest initiative is apparently driven from a local level rather than nationally which makes it all the more concerning. It involves suspending their proposed overtime ban for a fortnight to allow talks to take place with GTR on their pay deal and their Terms and Conditions. These talks will take place at the same time as discussions on giving GTR an agreement on DOO working.

Much will be made of the agreement reached that, for the next two weeks, no train will run without an OBS on board apart from on the Brighton Mainline. Many will want to paint this as a positive development rather than recognise the real issue that this brings about. Aslef are going to be seen to agreeing to increase the number of trains running DOO on the Brighton Mainline at a time when security has never been a bigger factor. I asked, in an earlier email, for you to consider the consequences of an incident happening on a packed DOO commuter train between stations, the impossibility of the driver alone trying to deal with the aftermath. That packed commuter train will now be running DOO sanctioned by ASLEF. It will be running without the deterrent that a second on board member of staff provides or the added safety their security checks provide. How many pieces of silver makes that acceptable?

The assurance that no train will operate without an OBS on board, apart from the Brighton Mainline, means little when no skill set has been agreed for the role of the OBS. The Company as yet have not even agreed to a method of ensuring a clear understanding exists between the OBS and Driver that the accessibility checks have been completed prior to the Driver locking the doors, never mind on issues such as PTS or Safety Qualifications. How many pieces of silver makes that acceptable?

There can be little doubt that by agreeing to address their Wage Deal and Terms and Conditions at the same time as the extension of DOO, will ensure that Drivers are well rewarded for their cooperation. It is only right that Train Drivers are able to achieve as good a deal as is possible on their wages and T&Cs, however this should be achieved in the correct manner. There can be no excuse for holding talks for resolving the issue of the extension of DOO alongside talks to discuss Wages and T&C’s The real danger is that this deal, rather than being financed by GTR’s profits, will be at the cost to a Safe Accessible and Secure rail network and at the expense of the jobs of Cleaners, Gateline, Ticket Office, Platform Staff etc. Jobs will disappear to finance the deal and other jobs will be farmed out to agencies, real jobs replaced by zero hour contracted employment. The de-staffing of the railway and the removal of full time staff to be replaced by causal labour has a very real impact on the Safety, Accessibility and Security of the network and turns railway stations into playgrounds for rogues and vandals. Rail staff rather than GTR profits will finance this deal. How many pieces of silver makes that acceptable?

If this initiative is being led by our Sister and Brothers in the driving grade, then they are being seriously misguided. A policy based on the principle of “grabbing what we can when we can and to hell with the consequences for ourselves and others” is not going to bring them the long term benefits that they seek.

If they require inspiration to enable them to find a better road to go down, they need look no further than yourselves. Despite ASLEF being tied up in the Courts and GTR waging a ruthless campaign against your Conditions (parking , travel etc.) you refused to betray your principles, you refused to betray your Sisters and Brothers in the Driving Grade, you choose to continue the fight for a Safe, Accessible and Secure rail network. The Company tried to bribe you with £2000, guaranteed you jobs throughout this franchise and beyond but still you refused to betray your principles, still you refused to betray your Sisters and Brothers, you choose to keep up the fight to secure a Safe Accessible and Secure rail network. You knew that with the Drivers unable to fight, that if you sold out then the Traincrew fight to achieve a Safe Accessible and Secure Rail Network would have been lost .

If Drivers Pay talks and DOO talks are to happen at the same time then the only winners will be GTR. A short term boost to their wages paid for by the jobs of their Sisters and Brothers in the Company, not by GTR’s profits, and by allowing GTR to succeed with their attack on the Safety, Accessibility and Security of the network will in the long term be disastrous for the Drivers.

With the prospect of Government legislation in the very near future to shackle the Unions in the Rail industry, solidarity is going to be essential. Solidarity can only be achieved by ensuring that we protect the jobs of all grades within the Company and that we all take responsibility for ensuring these jobs where they still exist do not end up being filled by causal labour. This solidarity to be successful will need to encompass more than just us within the rail industry. We need to show to those outside the industry that ensuring that we keep the network safe in times of incidents, accessible to all those that rely on it and secure for everyone to travel on are our long term priorities and not just bargaining chips to be exchanged for short term gains.

Since this dispute started in April 2016 we have for the majority of the time had to stand alone. Should this latest initiative mark the end of ASLEF’S involvement in the fight to protect the rail network, then so be it. It will certainly galvanise GTR to commit further attacks on us and we should be ready for this to happen, but it will not end our fight.

WHY WE WILL BE TAKING MORE STRIKE ACTION

RESPONSE TO GTR DOCUMENT AND LETTER  

This is a response to the Company document and  letter dated the17th of May 2017

GTR have responded to the RMT’s attempts to reach a resolution to our long running dispute by producing a “final offer” document which insults our intelligence . In this email I want to address the letter sent out yesterday by the Company and the Company’s final offer document.

The letter starts of by alleging that the Executive council made a decision to call further strike action without members having the right to express their views. The Regional Organiser along with […] Company Council Representatives have attended all the negotiating meetings and we were unanimous in recommending to the Executive Council that further strike action was necessary. The Company are well aware of how the procedure works and only when an offer is worthy of our members consideration will we send it out to referendum. If the Company want their document and the strike action on the 30th discussed they only have to let the RMT know what day they are prepared to release the Local and Company Council Reps and it will be arranged.

There are many reasons why this document produced by GTR could not be seen as a credible vehicle for resolving the dispute including:

ASSISTANCE GUARANTEE

“Assistance guarantee to all passengers for all train services in scope enabling the disabled, elderly vulnerable and others to be provided with assistance from on-board staff and/ or other staff, without the need to book in advance”.  This is the guarantee that we have been seeking however when questioned on how they would fulfil the guarantee the Company had nothing to offer beyond what they provide at present. This falls far short of guaranteeing access without pre booking. There are only two methods available to the Company which give guaranteed access and they are: providing  a member of staff on every station from start to finish of service or, providing a second member of staff on every train. GTR in this document have accepted their responsibilities for providing guaranteed access on all train services for the disabled, elderly, vulnerable and others.

WITHIN THEIR DOCUMENT GTR NEEDED TO PRODUCE A PLAN DETAILING HOW THEY INTEND TO FULFIL THIS GUARANTEE. 

Passenger Assistance Arrangements

The document states that at each station the OBS will carry out an “assistance check”. What they fail to confirm is how this will work. The point was made to the Company  that the requirement for the OBS to be at the door panel and activate the key before the driver locked the doors meant the OBS role was more restricted than that of the traditional Conductor. The suggestion was made to the Company that there should be a clear method of communication between the OBS and the Driver to confirm that platform duties were completed before the Driver could commence with the train dispatch procedure. The Company disputed this and insisted that the Driver would not close the door until they had witnessed the panel door key being de activated. This argument fell apart when GTR’s Head of Safety explained that with the door monitors on the right hand side of the cab and the panel key light indicator on the left meant that the Driver could not be expected to monitor both.

WITHIN THEIR DOCUMENT GTR NEEDED TO PRODUCE A WORKABLE METHOD OF OPERATION FOR PROVIDING PASSENGER ASSISTANCE.

OBS COMPETENCE

In the offer which ASLEF members rejected, the OBS were to have “Personal Track Safety”. This is the recognised industry qualification. In this document it has changed to “Company Track Safety”.

WITHIN THEIR DOCUMENT GTR NEEDED TO JUSTIFY REMOVING THE INDUSTRY RECOGNISED PTS WHICH THEY DEEMED NECESSARY IN THE OFFER THEY TABLED TO ASLEF IN FEBRUARY AND REPLACING IT WITH A WATERED DOWN COMPANY VERSION IN THIS FINAL OFFER DOCUMENT. 

OBS COMPETENCE 

The document states “in degraded conditions, an OBS who holds the relevant licence may assist in the dispatch of the train, if authorised by Control to do so”. What the document does not state is what is meant by the term “assisting in dispatch of the train”. OBS would want to know that they held all the necessary competencies before getting involved in operational procedures.

WITHIN THEIR DOCUMENT GTR NEEDED TO FULLY EXPLAIN WHAT THEY MEAN BY “ASSISTING IN TRAIN DISPATCH” AND THE COMPETENCIES ASSOCIATED WITH OPERATING THE PROCEDURE. 

I hope if you consider these examples of the flaws in this ill conceived and ill thought out document you can understand why we could never consider giving it the credibility of being put out to referendum.

IT’S STILL A BLOODY BIKE

The document also states that OBS’s employed in the future will require to pass a Safety Critical Medical to hold a Company Track Safety qualification. This seems a bit like buying a car on the Internet and when you turn up to collect it the seller wheels you out a bicycle, then to add insult to injury he demands to see a full driving licence before letting you pedal the bike away. IT’S STILL A BLOODY BIKE. Personal Track Safety is the recognised industry qualification. Company Track Safety is still an inferior qualification irrespective of having to pass a Safety Critical Medical to acquire it.

RECOGNITION AND REPRESENTATION

The Company letter also states that “They also continue to ignore calls from you, the members, seeking recognition and representation for the OBS role”. Even for GTR this is a stretch. The Company which imposed the OBS role on their staff, the Company which every weekend cancels all the diagrams and forces their staff to work 10 1/2 and 11 hour shifts, the Company which rosters Managers to stand on platforms monitoring OBS and Conductors, is now trying to shift the blame to the RMT. Recognition of the role is important but these issues will not go away because we get recognition. Issues such as these are dealt with by ensuring we successfully defend our right to belong to a strong Union.

I know you will see through this attempt by the Company to breach our solidarity as you have with each attempt they have made in the past.

NO FURTHER TALKS

In their letter the Company state that there will be no further talks due to the strike action being called for the 30th of May. The Company having being responsible for producing such a flawed “final document” should recognise that they left the RMT no alternative but to lay down a further strike date. With talks with ASLEF now broken down and their rest day and overtime ban reintroduced this means that the Company ,with their position of not talking to Unions who have called industrial action, are unable to talk to anyone to resolve the dispute. This stance by GTR is neither in the best interests of the travelling public or of finding a resolution to the dispute.

POINT OF AGREEMENT

It is always good to end on a point of agreement with the Company so I would like to fully endorse the Company suggestion that you share your views with management. It is the recognised Trade Union tradition that we express ourselves collectively so I hope we will all avail ourselves of the opportunity to do just that on the 30th of May.

SOLIDARITY IS EVERYTHING

 

DISABLED PASSENGER’S SPEECH TO RMT RALLY, APRIL 26TH 2017

PINCHED THIS WITH PERMISSION FROM RMT FACEBOOK:

Good afternoon! My name is Miriam Binder and this is the Grim Creeper also known as my wheelchair, or power-chair to those more technically inclined. We just get on with things and when my legs won’t bear the weight, Grim Creeper steps in and provides me with the trundle power to get where I am going. Well … that is the general idea anyway.

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Grimmy and I are a couple of independent travelers. We don’t have a carer who, much like the famed ‘lepers bell’ from years gone by, comes along wherever we go. We do our own shopping, we collect grandchildren from school, we take grandchildren shopping for Mummys’ birthday present or, occasionally, that extra special pair of trainers Daddy said was not in the budget. And we go to London, Manchester, Birmingham, Chester and any other place we want to go.

As long as it isn’t St Heliers though … St Heliers is an unmanned station … one of quite a number, and an increasing number at that, that is out of bounds for the Grim Creeper and me. Sadly though it isn’t just unmanned stations that are an issue. Despite the Equality Act 2010 stating that transport must be accessible to all there has been little progress in applying this to Rail Transport. To date, as things stand, only 1 in 5 of all stations in the UK is fully accessible.

A couple of years ago I needed to get to Chester for a course I was to attend. It was quite a lengthy journey from my home in Brighton and so I planned ahead and made sure I contacted Assisted Travel well in advance of my prospective journey. In fact it was about a week or so before. As it happened, trouble started as soon as I arrived in Euston to get on my Chester bound part of the journey. I wasn’t on the list. Never mind, if I cared to wait someone would put me on the train. As an aside, no one saw fit to inform me that there was no refreshment trolley, that the wheelchair space was in full sunlight space with no room to move and that the canteen on the train was not accessible for lone, wheelchair using, travellers.

When we got to Chester, everyone alighted from the train and I waited for someone to fetch the ramp to get me off the train. The train started filling up with people London bound and I was still waiting. No one had seen fit to inform the driver, the guard nor the destination station that a wheelchair passenger was on the train. I had to push the alarm to avoid being returned to London.

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In January of this year I had an early appointment in London. I was quite ready to take a late train to London and spend the night at Victoria Station to make sure I’d get to my appointment on time. No need I was informed by the helpful staff at the Travel Centre at Brighton Station. There is a train at 6:48am that will get you there in plenty of time. I duly presented myself at Brighton station at 6am. I was assisted on to the train at 6:40am. At 6:50am the train was full to bursting with commuters and we were informed that we would be diverted via Lewes.

I decided to get off the train but, due to a lack of ramps, and the fact that the cover to the alarm button was locked, I was unable to contact the guard. To cut a long story short, I spent 2.5 hours being dragged through Lewes, to Haywards Heath to a field half way to Three Bridges where we sat for about 15 minutes before being told that we were being diverted back to Haywards Heath where I finally managed to get off the train. To get a train back to Brighton having totally missed my appointment.

These are but two instances where the guard was effectively absent from the train as far as Grimmy and I were concerned. We were travelling on what, to all intents and purposes was a Driver Only Operated (DOO) train. I was nothing but a not very important parcel despite having paid my full fare. These two, along with a number of other instances over the years of travelling with Grimmy and her predecessors, made it clear to me that for travelers like me the proposal to operate DOOs on all Southern Rail was to be fought, tooth, nail and final breath, to the bitter end and beyond.

We’ve heard a lot about this ‘Assisted Travel’ and the ‘requirement’ placed on all ‘disabled’ passengers to book their journey 24 hours in advance of travel. If you were paying attention during my ramblings you will recall that I did indeed use Assisted Travel for my trip to Chester. Not because I am an aficionado of ‘Assisted Travel’ but because it was a lengthy journey, involving a number of changes and different train franchises – Southern and Arriva if my memory is not at fault. It did not ensure that my journey was hassle free.

Having said that, I can see the sense in using something like Assisted Travel when you are embarking on a lengthy and complex journey; however, and yes there is a however, this holds not just for us ‘impaired’ travelers but for all train travelers because of the complexities involving changes, different companies and the need to ensure that you know what platforms you need to be on at the various stations you will alight and embark from during your journey.

This is the anniversary of the fight to keep guards on the train; a whole year of strikes, upheavals and the occasional confrontation. As Southern has forged ahead and implemented the changes we oppose we have seen disabled travelers left on unmanned stations in their wheelchairs because there was no one to get them off the train at their desired destination. We have seen passengers getting caught in doors shut by drivers who are forced to rely on blurry and time delayed images on multiple screens. We have heard of yet another 33 stations, so far, that are going to be unmanned and part manned. Add this to what I said earlier … about only 1 in 5 UK stations being fully accessible in 2017 …

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I am, apart from a pain in the neck, a mouthy female and the burden borne in style by my Grim Creeper, a mother, a grandmother, a friend and an activist. Things happen; my daughter in London may suddenly need Nanny to babysit her two gorgeous grandsons while Mummy works late. My friend in St Helliers may need my shoulder to cry on as her dog departs on his last journey. My pressure group ‘DPAC’ may need me to attend an emergency meeting with less than 24 hours’ notice. Or I may suddenly get a yearning to go and spend my hard earned cash in Littlehampton rather than Brighton Churchill Square. Or, shock and horror, I may suddenly cave in to the demands of my grandchildren and decide to take them all to Tillgate Park in Crawley one Sunday.

These are all normal, everyday issues that people face and … surprising as this may sound … so do we, the physically, mentally and cognitively impaired. Why should I, just because I happen to be impaired through no choice of my own, be required to forego on spontaneity because I cannot give Southern Rail at least 24 hours’ notice of my desire to indulge in some spontaneous activities; forgetting for the moment that there is something not quite right about spontaneous activity and 24 hours’ notice. My 9 year old grandson is doing something at school and wants Nanny to come and see him ‘oh and Nanny, it is tomorrow at 10am. Sorry sweetling, no can do as I haven’t the time to let Southern know?

Grimmy and I are fortunate. No one, seeing us, questions whether I am impaired. It is rather obvious. There are however many ‘hidden’ impairments that aren’t instantly recognizable. Mental health issues, cognitive impairments, various ailments that are accompanied with a variety of physical weaknesses … such as heart conditions, epilepsy and others.

I do recollect reading some guard … the name escapes me at the moment … who wrote that he had been told that it is cheaper for a franchise to pay a couple of million for the odd death then it would be to ensure that every passenger is as safe as can be during every single journey. Economically, I can see the argument works well but we are not crates of bottles, reams of paper or boxes of apples, all of which can be replaced given but time enough. We, as human and humane beings, impact on lives other than our own in ways beyond mere calculation. And that holds as true for the impaired as it does for the unimpaired.

Turn up and go is the principle behind the 2010 Equality Act. Turn up and go! With a straight forward journey, doing a normal everyday thing like commuting to work, taking a shopping trip, visiting friends or relatives, indulging the grandchildren or surprising a friend with a meal on the town. Turn up and go is the right of each and every single one of the over 10 million disabled people in the UK.

Just as a matter of interest, 19% of the working age population is disabled. That is over 6.9 million people. Two million people in the UK have impaired vision to varying extents. More than 900,000 people in the UK are severely or profoundly deaf. There are more than 45,000 deaf children in the UK; there are approximately 770,000 disabled children under the age of 16 … that is 1 child in 20 …. A huge number of people who all deserve to … Turn up and go!

When you attach a string of carriages to a powerful engine and send them all hurtling down a track from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ you have a captive ‘community’ – I’ll use the term community even if the only thing they have in common is the fact that they are all on this locked down string of carriages hurtling down a track.
A duty of care cannot be ignored however much you may want to do just that. And to ensure that duty of care is implemented, every train should have a driver and a guard as a minimum. A driver should be allowed to concentrate on getting the train where it is going. And we, the entire railway traveling population, deserve, require and insist on the presence of a safety critical trained guard for our security, safety and welfare in travel!

THE FUTURE IS NOT INEVITABLE –  IT’S DOWN TO US!

Southern Drivers have shown by rejecting the latest proposal aimed at ending their dispute ,that even when a Company shackles the Union bureaucrats it cannot shackle the Union members.

It was a remarkable display of courage by the Drivers to reject the strongest possible recommendation from their Union and vote to continue the fight.

Simon Weller, ASLEF Assistant General Secretary, stated that the deal was rejected due to the toxic atmosphere that exists between GTR and their staff. There is no disputing that the relationship between GTR and their staff is toxic but this is not why the deal was rejected. This was not a “foot stamping” exercise by Drivers fed up with their employer, this was Drivers recognising that the deal being recommended to them was unacceptable and voting accordingly.

With the dispute now entering into its twelfth month there is understandable anxiety amongst Train Crew about how it will be brought to a successful conclusion. Drivers are having to contend with their Union recommending deals which they fear will have dire consequences for their Terms and Conditions in coming years. They don’t doubt that their salaries will continue to increase what they fear is what will be expected from them to get this salary. This understandably has a detrimental effect on Train Crew morale and will have led some frontline staff into concluding that they cannot affect the future shape of their industry.

This is not the case. The future is not inevitable – it is down to us!

This dispute can and will be won if enough Frontline staff throw their support behind the RMT action. I fully appreciate that many Drivers are rightly proud to be members of ASLEF .The many years that ASLEF have dedicated to representing the driving grade should not be forgotten by any of us.

What is clear is that at the present time, for whatever reason, they are unable to offer the leadership required to bring this dispute to a successful conclusion. It is for this reason that I believe that the way for Drivers to play an active part in successfully concluding the dispute is to act in partnership with their Sisters and Brothers in the RMT.

It is essential that we are able to convince GTR that the solution to their dispute with us and their dispute with the driving grade  will be found in tri-party talks (GTR, RMT and ASLEF) and not by trying to divide the Unions so that the Company can reap the benefits. It must be clear to everyone by now this was why GTR refused to allow Mick Cash into the talks which took place at the TUC. Rail Unions must learn the lesson from this. Issues regarding the division of responsibilities within Train Crew can only be successfully addressed when GTR are forced to abandon their attempts to divide the unions and instead work constructively with both Unions in finding solutions to our shared concerns.

To bring this to reality Train Crew need to work together. We need to demonstrate to GTR that their attempts to divide us have failed and demand that we have a say in the future shape of our industry.

Everyone involved in the rail industry should want to see a Safe, Accessible, Secure and reliable rail service. A service that staff can be proud of providing and that will meet and exceed the expectations of the travelling public.

If we act together we can make it happen. Saturday the 8th of April gives Train Crew the opportunity to stand united and if that opportunity is grasped then we will be successful.

SOLIDARITY IS EVERYTHING.

STAY STRONG STAND UNITED AND WE WILL WIN.

 

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