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It's Not About The Doors!

Exposing DfT/Govia Lies

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itsnotaboutthedoors

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.

 

HUW MERRIMAN POSITION IS UNTENABLE AFTER TRANSPORT SELECT COMMITTEE SOUTHERN VISIT: RESIGN NOW

Huw Merriman MP for Bexhill and Battle and member of the Transport Select Committee, has reported on a visit by the committee to Southern Rail.

Huw Merriman has produced a  report after the Transport Select Committee visit to Southern Rail on the 1st of March 2017 (https://www.huwmerriman.org.uk/news/transport-select-committee-southern-rail-visit). This report concentrates on issues which have given rise to the long running rail dispute but unfortunately Mr Merriman’s report is flawed to the point of being dangerously inaccurate.

In the report Mr Merriman covers 3 main topics:

Driver only dispatch:

He puts forward that it was perfectly possible for the driver, using the cameras, to view when it was clear to close the doors. It is to be expected that GTR would arrange to show a delegation from the Transport Select Committee cameras providing a clear image. There have however been plenty of images made available to all interested parties showing images which fail to give adequate clarity to safely dispatch a train. He fails to address this in his report.  

He goes on to state that Drivers have an alarm system to alert them if someone/something is trapped in the doors.  377 rolling stock which will be used in the area in which DOO has been enforced has no alarm system to alert Drivers to an obstruction in the doors, indeed the driver will still get an interlock light (confirming that all the doors are closed) even if an object with the circumference of a walking stick is stuck in the doors. This means that a person’s hand or a child’s arm could be stuck in the doors without the driver getting any alert; instead they would get an interlock light telling them that all the doors are safely closed.

He then makes an outrageous statement that “in cab” monitors remaining on until the train has cleared the platform cannot be used due to drivers being held liable if they missed any occurrence and describes this as an example of our litigious country compromising positive safety advancements. He fails to address the fact that this  so called “safety enhancement”, which he views would make it safer than dispatch with a Conductor, would mean drivers studying monitors to show what is happening at the rear of the train instead of concentrating on what is happening in front of the train.

OBS having more time to deal with customers:
He states that the new OBS role does not require the staff to carry out door opening duties and frees up the staff to spend more time with customers. I would have hoped by now that Mr Merriman would be aware that it is the act of not having to close the doors that the Company claims frees the OBS to spend more time with the customers not the act of opening the doors.

What he fails to address in his report is the fact that the job spec for the OBS role has changed considerably. As a result of these changes the OBS are now less able to provide customer care than a traditional Conductor. The reason for this is that the OBS must now put their key on and activate the door panel at every station and then step on to the platform and be able to view the entire length of the train to check for disabled customers. Conductors who are carrying out customer care duties on board a service know that they can deal with any on board issue and then activate the door panel, check for customers requiring assistance safe in the knowledge that the train cannot depart until they have completed this procedure. An OBS dealing with the same scenario, due to not being part of the dispatch process, could find by the time they have completed their customer care responsibilities that the driver has closed the train doors and the train is departing the station before they can reach the door panel to activate it with the key. This means that the train will have departed the station without the OBS stepping on to the platform and checking for customers requiring assistance to board, with the possible consequence that a disabled customer is left behind on the platform. This as stated by the Company will result in the OBS being dealt with under the disciplinary procedures (GTR have issued a letter to OBS stating that failing to activate the door panel and stepping on to every platform will result in disciplinary action).This gives the OBS less time to spend giving on board assistance to customers as they must be at the door panel prior to the train arriving at the station whereas a traditional Conductor is not restricted in this way.

The second reason they are more restricted than a traditional Conductor in providing customer service is the requirement to view the entire length of the train when they step on to the platform. A traditional Conductor only operates over a limited part of the network so that she/ he is able to have the required route knowledge for the area they cover. This allows them to be aware before arriving at a platform what coach they need to be in to be able to view the entire length of the train. This knowledge gives them the freedom to provide customer care throughout the service they are working knowing that they will be located correctly when the train stops at the station. The OBS unlike the conductor can be rostered to cover any route across the entire network and therefore lacks the route knowledge of the Conductor. They lack the knowledge of the curvatures of the platforms and are therefore less likely to know which coach to be positioned in to view the entire length of the train when it is on the platform. This means that to comply with the Company instruction the OBS is restricted to spending more time located towards the centre of the train lacking the freedom afforded the traditional Conductor to provide a service throughout the train.

GTR’S attitude towards disabled access:
He states as follows “There was an acknowledgement that this meant by no longer having to cancel a train for passengers, those who are disabled may not be able to board a train which runs in exceptional circumstances without a second crew member. This, in the view of Southern, was not a good enough reason to cancel it for all other passengers and cause delays to the rest of their network”.

Huw Merriman fails to address the fact that GTR running services without a second member of staff removes the  guarantee of access for the disabled and will mean that many customers who require assistance to board services will therefore be discouraged from using the railways as they will have no guarantee of being able to access the service. He mentions that services will only run without a second person under exceptional circumstances but does not address the fact that many of the circumstances stated by GTR are far from exceptional. With GTR’s track record for failing to provide adequate staffing levels it should be expected that trains operating without a second person on board will be the “norm” not the exception.

He also fails to address the bigger picture which is that now the network is cleared for DOO it means that GTR can run their Thameslink services over these routes without a second person on board as the proposed agreement with ASLEF (on exceptional circumstances) only covers Southern services, not Thameslink or any other Rail Operator.
This extension of DOO removes the right from the disabled to “turn up and go” and will mean many people who require assistance will no longer be able to access train services without pre booking 24 hours in advance, with the devastating impact that this will have on their work and social lives.

The inaccuracies in Huw Merriman’s report can be summed up as follows: 

On Safety:
He wrongly states that the Driver will receive an alarm to warn of a door obstruction. He suggests that all “in cab ” monitors give a clear image. He implies that it is only due to drivers’ concerns over prosecution that prevent “in cab” monitors remaining on until the train has cleared the platform. He wrongly states that this method would be safer than dispatch with a Conductor.


The safest method of train dispatch is by Conductor working from a cab where she is free from distraction and can view the platform/train interface until the train is clear of the station. There is also an emergency stop button available to the Conductor should they require to stop the train in an emergency.

On Customer Service:
He bases his view that the OBS have more time to spend with the customers due to being freed from door operating responsibilities on the original job description for the role. He either chooses to ignore or is unaware that the OBS job description has changed considerably and due to these changes to their role they are less able to carry out customer care than a traditional Conductor.

On Disabled Access:
Huw Merriman’s failure to challenge GTR’s treatment of the disabled makes a mockery of the position he holds on the Transport Select Committee. His abject failure to challenge GTR on their breach of the 2010 Equality Act and the devastating effect their plan will have on the lives of disabled customers demonstrates that he puts his responsibilities as a Tory MP to act on behalf of  Big Business before his responsibilities to the Transport Select Committee’s and their role in protecting the interests of disabled customers. He should resign from the Select Committee immediately.

This dispute has lasted for a year due to the DFT and MPs such as Huw Merriman giving their support to GTR, despite the fact the changes GTR are forcing through are providing for a less safe, less accessible and less customer focused rail network. This report by Huw Merriman’s is a prime example of an MP using his position on the Transport Select Committee to distort the evidence in support of the Rail Operator to the detriment of the disabled travellers and rail safety.

There must be members on the Transport Select Committee who want to ensure that the safest method of train dispatch is operated, that the disabled are able to access train services rather than being excluded and that the highest level of customer service is provided to customers. It is time for them to stand up and make their voices heard above the dangerous, ill informed  rhetoric being spouted by Huw Merriman. 

A second Safety Critical person on every train, provides for the safest method of train dispatch, gives the optimum level of customer care and ensures that disabled customers can access every service.

 

WHY THE VOTE ON THE ASLEF/GTR AGREEMENT MUST BE NO!

We reproduce below two accounts of a meeting at GTR’s Go-Ahead House yesterday between Mick Whelan, Aslef General Secretary, Graham Morris, full time officer, Marz Colombini, Executive Committee Member, and the Drivers Functional Council and Local Depot Council reps. It does not make for pleasant reading. With the Joint Branches meeting at Three Bridges this evening we want to help inform drivers as much as possible of what has been done in their name. First there is an impassioned plea to drivers to reject the Aslef/GTR deal and VOTE NO.


WHY OUR SISTERS AND BROTHERS IN ASLEF MUST REJECT THIS IMPOSITION

THIS IS NOT A NEGOTIATED AGREEMENT THIS IS AN IMPOSITION BY GTR


This imposition of DOO must be rejected by the Drivers. There can be no defence of the Terms of Surrender put before them. This is a one sided deal that benefits GTR and humiliates ASLEF.

The Talks only happened once ASLEF had suspended all industrial action. That was not enough for GTR SO they chose to humiliate the ASLEF negotiating team, and the members they represent, by continuing to extend DOO even as they sat at the negotiating table.


ASLEF, to preserve some dignity, needed to walk away from the negotiating table when it became clear that GTR were extending DOO during the talks. Regrettably they choose to remain and suffered the predictable consequence of  being bullied into total submission. 

GTR have taken everything they want and given nothing in return. The never ending  list of exceptional circumstances when the trains can operate without a second person  gives them the right to run their services DOO at will. This impacts on Safety and Accessibility with the implications that has for both individual Drivers being held accountable in a Court and the right of the disabled to travel without pre booking.
Mick Whelan, ASLEF General Secretary, said recently;

  •   “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.”
  •   “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.”

 IT IS TIME FOR MICK WHELAN AND THE ASLEF NEGOTIATING TEAM  TO REMEMBER THOSE WORDS AND                       STAND UP AND DEFEND THE RIGHTS OF  DRIVERS AND THE DISABLED

There has been much talk in the depots regarding the imagined split between Drivers in Coastal Depots and those in the Metro. The belief is that whereas the Coastal depots are opposed to the extension of DOO, the Metro depots are only concerned about the correct consultations taking place before the introduction of DOO.

That may or may not be an accurate scenario but what is absolutely clear is that this ‘PEACE DOCUMENT’ has not come about through meaningful discussions with Drivers representatives rather it is the product of one side enforcing their will on the other. That makes it an imposition not an agreement.

If this is accepted by the  Driving grade then it is the end of them having an effective voice in the workplace NO MATTER WHERE THEY WORK. If they are unable to stand up for their right to have a meaningful voice at the negotiating table then they will be unable to stand up and defend their Terms and Conditions.

The prize of having a subservient Driving grade has been long sought after by the industry and the Drivers capitulation now  would be accepted with relish.

If this deal is accepted it means the end of a Drivers Union that can defend its members.

A Drivers Union that has accepted that it cannot fight can no longer stop the Company managing out of the industry all Drivers who are deemed not to conform to “Company Standards”.

Our Sisters and Brothers in the driving grade who have helped sustain our fight over the past ten months, both by financial help and by boosting morale, have earned our respect and gratitude. We must ensure that they know they have our full support as they face up to rejecting this imposition and all it entails.

IT IS TIME FOR DRIVERS TO MAKE THEIR VOICE HEARD

                                                                  DEMAND RESPECT
                                                                         

                                                      VOTE TO REJECT THIS IMPOSITION
     DEFEND A SAFE ACCESSIBLE AND SECURE RAIL NETWORK 


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