An EMT driver reports...
In April 2016, after seven months of talks, East Midlands Trains (EMT) proposed a deal to its drivers that would guarantee a Sunday service.
Presently, and for many years previously, drivers have not had to work on Sundays. A lot of us are induced to work, in the main through individual bargaining with roster clerks. This usually results in enhanced pay above the normal rate for the job.
Unsurprisingly, the company and the Department for Transport (DfT) don’t like this method of covering Sunday work. It is haphazard, and if there is a particular event on a particular Sunday that lots of drivers want to attend then the service suffers. They have proposed that in two and a half years time Sundays will become like any other day for working: this will require a lot more drivers. And to achieve that the DfT will be paying to train those extra drivers whilst extracting a promise from EMT that, in the interim, the Sunday service is guaranteed to be staffed. The present deal is EMT’s attempt to buy that guarantee from drivers.
Initially, it was put to us by Aslef but was rejected by 72% in a straw poll. Or, should I say, that that was what most drivers thought had happened. In fact, after a very slight improvement Aslef accepted the deal on behalf of EMT drivers but kindly gave us the right to opt-in/out of the new Sunday working arrangements.
The union leadership was called to account for this by motions from branches at the two biggest EMT depots, Nottingham and Derby, demanding a 50%+1 ballot rather than the unprecedented opt-in/out process. Unsure if it could tough out the uproar about its new decision making process, the union leadership then got an emergency motion through its Annual General Meeting (called the Annual Assembly of Delegates, AAD, in Aslef) that retrospectively legitimised its power grab against its own members. The motion basically says that no ballot of members is required to accept this kind of deal because drivers are given the choice of whether to opt in or out of it.
So, that bad process is continuing now and it looks probable that EMT will convince enough drivers to opt in to make the deal viable, helped by the extreme flexibility with which the number of drivers required is calculated. If the deal does come in, the drivers’ grade will have been significantly weakened because it will have created a large group of drivers who will not be on the same terms and conditions as the majority.
The leadership seems to have forgotten that basic trade union principle — unity is strength. It is harder to maintain unity and thus strength against the employer among a group of workers when one part of them are on different terms and conditions to the other.
The emergency motion at AAD has also set a dangerous precedent for union democracy in that the leadership may seek further powers to take decision making out of our hands. Aslef rank-and-file members should get together to discuss how this terrible decision can be reversed.
EMT drivers have until 10 June to return their papers and a decision on whether the deal can go ahead will be taken by the DfT on 15 June.