Justice for Jarvis?

Submitted by Off The Rails on 10 July, 2010 - 10:24

When the bosses failed, workers were made to pay the price. That's what happened when Jarvis and its two rail companies - Jarvis Fastline and Jarvis Rail - were placed in administration earlier this year.

Jarvis was contracted by Network Rail, and NR and the government that backed it are to blame for the catastrophe that has befallen the workforce.

Jarvis had £100m worth of work on its order books. The work contracted to Jarvis still had to be done, so it would have made sense for the Jarvis workforce to continue to do the work. That's what happened when Railtrack went into administration in 2001, and when Metronet went into administration in 2007.

The government and Network Rail could have ensured that it happened when Jarvis went to the wall. The administrator - Deloitte's - asked the government to intervene, and asked Network Rail to put up a mere £19m to keep Jarvis as a going concern so it could be sold on and the jobs saved. But no. 1,200 workers lost their jobs.

They lost their jobs on 31 March, and by the following weekend, Network Rail had arranged for rival contractors to do their work. Babcock Rail took over much of the work and brought in agency labour to do it. Network Rail even expected redundant Jarvis workers to be grateful for picking up a bit of day-rate work doing their old jobs for a fraction of the pay. Only concerted RMT pressure forced Babcock to take on some of the redundant Jarvis workers.

Many of those not so 'lucky' have had no income since. They have tried to access their pensions but been fobbed off. They have had to go begging to the state for peanuts. Statutory redundancy pay only gives you 8 weeks money - then you have to sign on (and no doubt read lurid reports in the Daily Mail calling you a 'scrounger').

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Network Rail's Chief Executive Iain Coucher walked away with his pockets stuffed with bonuses and golden goodbyes, while Jarvis bosses - including among their ranks Tory Steven Norris - have hardly felt the pinch either.

Jarvis has a rotten history on the railway - responsible for the Potters Bar disaster, bought out of Tube Lines, a string of health and safety convictions. No-one is sad to see the company go. But those failings were the fault of the company, not the workers. They are skilled railworkers who are needed to keep the railway running safely.

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But rail workers are not inclined to take this sort of crap lying down. The 'Justice 4 Jarvis workers' campaign organised demonstrations and lobbies. It took the campaign to the local communities, and to other parts of the rail industry, where workers and union branches were more than willing to give verbal, physical and financial support. And Bill Rawcliffe stood in Doncaster in the general election to highlight his workmates' plight.

The Jarvis story is an indictment of the role of the private sector on the railway, and an indictment of a 'Labour' government which even in its dying days could not bring itself to reach out a helping hand to workers. It is yet more proof that we need not just to be well-organised in the workplace, but to take up our fight for justice in the political arena too.

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