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Will Northern try to buy off drivers to undermine guards' victory?

Northern rolling stock

The breakthrough in the anti-DOO dispute is a cause for celebration, but some caution must also be exercised. No formal settlement has yet been reached, and the "other stakeholders" referred to in Acas chair Brendan Barber's letter to RMT General Secretary Mick Cash must be drivers' union Aslef.

Aslef has past form selling out RMT members as well as its own members in the big DOO dispute with GTR Southern in 2016/17. In addition, Aslef reps on the Northern Company Council has been acting to aid the company in pushing forward its DOO agenda.

In June last year, they deliberately bailed the company out from having the franchise confiscated by agreeing to sanction voluntary overtime for drivers, in return for a £1,000 cash payment to each driver. They were roundly lambasted by their members soon after, when it was discovered that they had mistakenly failed to check the wording of the agreement, meaning that although overtime rates increased for longer-serving drivers, for newly qualified drivers they were actually lower under the new agreement than they had been the last time there was a rest day working agreement in place.

Despite promising to rectify their mistake, they have allowed rest day working to continue for six months under this shoddy agreement, and recently recommended a further three-month extension.

The extent to which these reps are in the employers' pockets runs still deeper. It recently emerged that they have negotiated extra release from driving duty for themselves (but not local level reps), so that even if a meeting they were due to attend is cancelled, they are still given extra "staff side" time. Worse still, they recently recommended the union accept a training agreement for new rolling stock that includes drivers being expected at certain times to check CCTV screens showing feeds from inside the train - something that a driver has absolutely no reason to do when operating a service that is also staffed by a guard.

Commendably, the Aslef Executive Committee refused to accept that agreement - presumably because they realised that the Company Council reps have gone rogue and are now willing to do more or less anything the employer wants them to do in return for the vaguest promises of future improvements to drivers' salaries or terms and conditions.

So there is a clear and present danger to this hard-won victory. Northern bosses and the DfT will try to buy drivers off and snatch back the win for their side - RMT must not allow any secret talks between Aslef and the company. Ideally they should fight to bring Aslef into joint talks, to ensure that they are not forced into giving away any more than absolutely necessary for Aslef to then try to capitalise.

The Aslef leadership should learn from the condemnation they rightfully received when they agreed to exclude RMT from the talks with Southern brokered by TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady, and agree to joint talks as set out in Brendan Barber's letter.

Trade Unions

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