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.