The RMT Union is rightly continuing its campaign of industrial action to secure a second Safety Qualified person on all services which operated in that mode prior to August 2016 and last week announced two further strike dates on the 3rd and 5th of October. GTR’s refusal to accept that a guaranteed second person is essential on these services has stalled any peace talks with the RMT and therefore begs the question what is the most ASLEF can hope to achieve from their ongoing talks?
ASLEF are involved in negotiating on three separate issues: pay award, terms and conditions and GTR’s forced introduction of DOO across the network. The drivers’ pay award, and terms and conditions, are matters which they should get addressed successfully in these talks. The stumbling block, as everyone recognises, is the issue of DOO.
GTR have been clear that any talks to resolve the dispute can only take place providing the unions agree to ratify the company’s right to operate DOO across the entire network. Operating DOO in the previous non-DOO area is very different to operating on the Brighton mainline due to the number of remote and unstaffed stations. This is why any proposed agreement which concedes DOO under “exceptional circumstances”*** in the previous non-DOO area should be rejected. Operating DOO under the conditions which exist over these routes seriously undermines the Safety, Accessibility and Security of the network with serious implications for both customers and staff.
***It is worth noting that the existing “exceptional circumstances” agreement in operation on the Mainline is, in the view of many drivers, consistently abused by the company.
“We are completely opposed to Driver Only Operation and its forms, including Driver Controlled Operation(DCO)/Drive Door Operation (DDO), throughout the network.
We firmly believe this method of operation is less safe for passengers and the workforce and our unions will not agree to the extension of DOO or DCO/DDO under any circumstances”.
Mick Whelan, ASLEF General Secretary, November 2015
The only concession GTR will make to ASLEF in these talks will be a reduction in the number of “exceptional circumstances” under which services will operate DOO. This is a concession that GTR will gladly make as they are aware that the actual number of exceptions is meaningless and what matters is getting ASLEF to concede that the entire network can be operated under DOO. At present GTR having enforced this extension of DOO and having ignored the rail unions’ warnings that it is an unsafe practise, face being held to account when a serious incident happens. If GTR can secure the agreement of ASLEF and Southern drivers for this method of operation then when any safety of the line incident occurs or a disabled, elderly or vulnerable customer is adversely effected they can rightly claim that the method of operation has been ratified as acceptable and safe by the ASLEF union and its members.
There are no benefits for rail customers or frontline staff in such an agreement hence why this approach was discounted by the RMT over a year ago.
“So there is no dubiety it is the policy of my organisation that there will be no agreement to extend DOO anywhere and even if DCO is agreed by other trade unions we will not be agreeing this method of operation either.”
Mick Whelan, ASLEF General Secretary, 24 September 2015.
The “exceptional circumstances” under which DOO will be allowed to operate will be when the service is degraded i.e. fatality, broken rail, failed train, signal problems etc., meaning that drivers will be forced to operate under DOO mode at the very time they require a second safety qualified person on board the most.
It will mean drivers having to operate services DOO on late night coastway services which have been badly disrupted. Those services will be more crowded than normal and some of the customers will be drunk. This is a combination which leads to anti-social and aggressive behaviour, leaving the disabled, elderly, vulnerable and the driver at risk.
Any driver working under these conditions will be faced with making ‘damned if I do, damned if I don’t’ decisions. If a customer who requires assistance is waiting to board a late night service at an unstaffed station in the middle of winter what decision does the Driver make:
A) informs control and leaves the customer at the station which may lead to serious safety/ health consequences for the customer and legal consequences for the driver.
B) Assists the customer on to the service fully aware that there is a drunk/rowdy element already on board or may board at any station and is also fully aware that there is no second member of staff on board to help ensure the customers safety. Again this decision may have serious consequences for the customers’ safety/ health and legal consequences for the driver.
“I believe Southern are suggesting that disabled people in England ring up 24 hours in advance of when they want to travel. The whole basis of the industry is ‘step on and go’. The idea that sectors of our community should have to book in advance when others don’t is anathema to me. Everybody should have the same access and rights to get on and off a train.”
Mick Whelan, ASLEF General Secretary
Another likely scenario the driver will have to deal with is an emergency alarm activated by a frightened customer due to fighting on board the service which could result in serious injuries being inflicted. Does the driver:
A) Call for police assistance and remain in the cab for the 10/20/40 minutes it takes for assistance to arrive leaving the disabled, elderly and vulnerable at the mercy of the yobs.
B) Call for police assistance but leave the cab to check on the disabled/elderly/vulnerable customers placing themselves at considerable risk of serious assault.
C) Continue to run the service until reaching a staffed station despite having being made aware that fighting was taking place. Should a customer sustain a serious injury they may take legal action against the driver.
It is clear whatever decision the driver makes will have health/safety consequences for the customers along with safety/legal consequences for the driver. Having a second member of crew on board allows situations such as these to be monitored and action to be taken before the anti social behaviour spirals out of control. Drivers on their own will not be aware until the situation has escalated to a dangerous level placing both themselves and the customers they have responsibility for at serious risk
These and many other similar scenarios caused by fire, terrorism, collision etc., will have to be faced by Drivers should ANY “exceptional circumstances” be agreed which allows DOO to be operated in what was the previous non-DOO area.
There is no benefit in reducing the list of exceptional circumstances when just one exception would give rise to the afore mentioned scenarios.
“I haven’t seen one company director in the past 20 years who has got a fiduciary responsibility hauled in to the dock, had their job taken away or go to prison for it – but I have seen it happen to guards, platform staff and drivers.”
Mick Whelan, Aslef General Secretary
It would seem outrageous if someone was to suggest that you would only permit a method of operation when circumstances dictated that it was the worst possible time to do so, yet that is the reality of allowing DOO under “exceptional circumstances”. When services and stations are at their busiest, when there is the greatest level of confusion amongst both staff and passengers, when the needs of the disabled elderly and vulnerable are at there greatest, at the very time when having a second person on board is essential to enable the driver to operate the service safely, this is the time the driver is forced to operate the services DOO.
The company’s reason for pursuing this strategy is evident. They will be securing trade union ratification for their DOO operation. Should/when an incident occurs they will point to the fact that the method of operation has been agreed with the union and union members. They will also be successfully implementing the strategy devised by Peter Wilkinson for controlling the rail unions and getting them to “toe the line” thereby providing the conditions for the dismantling of the drivers’ terms and conditions and destaffing the network as demanded by the McNulty Report.
“I am calling on the train companies to stop taking staff off trains and stations, putting profits before passengers , and ensure all of our railway is safe”.
Mick Whelan, ASLEF General Secretary, August 2017
There is however no logic in the union pursuing this strategy unless there is a belief that turkeys really should vote for Christmas. It is a strategy which will not only achieve THE DfT’s GOAL in weakening the unions but will at the same time seriously compromise Safety Accessibility and Security on the network.
IT COULD BE YOUR SON, YOUR DAUGHTER, YOUR MOTHER OR YOUR FATHER, YOUR PARTNER, YOUR HUSBAND OR YOUR WIFE, YOUR FRIEND OR YOUR NEIGHBOUR WHO IS PUT AT RISK BY THE ACCEPTANCE OF ANY DEAL WHICH COMPROMISES RAIL SAFETY.
“Southern says DOO is safe. It isn’t”.
Mick Whelan, ASLEF General Secretary, January 2017
THE ONLY WAY OF ENSURING A SAFE, ACCESSIBLE AND SECURE RAIL SERVICE IS WITH THE GUARANTEE OF A SECOND SAFETY QUALIFIED PERSON ON EVERY SERVICE WORKED BY A CONDUCTOR PRIOR TO AUGUST 2016 – NO EXCEPTIONS.
SUPPORT THE STRIKE ACTION ON THE 3RD AND 5TH OF OCTOBER. IT IS ONLY BY STANDING UNITED THAT WE CAN PROTECT THE INTERESTS OF THE TRAVELLING PUBLIC AND FRONTLINE STAFF.