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.
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.
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.
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.