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It's Not About The Doors!

Exposing DfT/Govia Lies

Month

July 2017

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

 

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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. 

 

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