In the last Off The Rails, we described the battles on Network Rail as ‘a crucial fight’. But how is that fight going? These two pages carry reports from Network Rail workers on both the maintenance and the signalling side of the job.
We are now beginning to see the outcome of letting management prolong any dispute.
The opportunity to take affirmative action over the threatened job losses and associated de-skilling now seems to have been lost. The latest ‘final’ offer is nothing short of the old harmonisation proposals by the back door. We achieved a 2-day strike against that but our union leadership allowed a winding down of the action.
We were then confronted with savage attacks on our terms and conditions dressed up as ‘not harmonisation’. After winning a massive majority in favour of strike action we backed off, not because of an injunction against our strike, but because we would have been without the signallers who had been stopped by the Tory anti-union laws.
The London Underground Tube Lines engineering workers have shown that we can organise a strike and gain support from other sections. During their strike, some of the Tube drivers refused to drive on safety grounds. We should be able to do the same with our brothers and sisters on the surface railway.
This is all part of the same attack on the working class under the cover of the financial crisis.
We have fought hard and long to gain relatively decent pay and pension rights and should not be willing to let them go. It is not too late to organise a proper fight back.
We should re-ballot after a short campaign where our leaders look serious and in the meantime break off talks with management unless they come back with an offer which more represents our needs ie. no job losses, guaranteed pension rights and no compulsory multi-skill matrix ie. a living basic wage without having to jump through hoops.
The situation for Network Rail signallers is not looking good.
Network Rail ran to the courts and used the anti-union laws to get our strike vote declared illegal on a few technicalities.
Since then, RMT has gone through the process of re-doing the matrix for a ballot, but as we write, the new ballot has not been done yet, even though the injunction itself tells the union what corrections need to be made.
So, where are we with the three issues in the dispute?
1. Detonators. The union says this is resolved, but not all workers are convinced, as many of us think it will come back.
2. Rosters. Management are saying that they will negotiate, but it still looks like they are insisting on their right to impose anti-social rosters.
3. Most importantly, the PTR&R. The 1994 settlement included an agreement that promotion would be judged by suitability not seniority - but this was for promotion only, not for redundancy. This promotion system has seen the spread of 'blue-eyed boy and girl syndrome' through the company: it is a subjective, not objective, system.
NR now wants to make redundancies using 'suitability', saying first that seniority is no longer allowed because it constitutes age discirmination, and then that RMT agreed it! The recently-departed and not-missed Iain Coucher said on the NR intranet Q&A that the company would use 'seniority and suitablity'.
If they get away with using 'suitability', this would enable them to decide who they get rid of. Who do you think they will choose? Perhaps union activists, people who stand up to managers, or just faces who do not fit!
It now looks like there will be compulsory redundancies. For example, 18 jobs are going in the Durham Coast Re-signalling Scheme due to box closures, and there are only 12 vacancies in the area.
Network Rail will offer voluntary severance, but people don't want to go, they want a job - hardly surprising, with unemployment going up. Some people are willing to move to other areas, but NR won't allow this.
But the union looks like it has gone from fighting about whether there should be compulsory redundancies to how they should be done.
Members feel frustrated by the lack of information. Union circulars tend to tell us just that talks are ‘ongoing’, that ‘progress is being made’, without detail. Many union members have started to feel like they are being left to hang.
Our main problem is that we have still not been re-balloted, while job cuts progress. In some places, one person is doing what three people were doing a couple of years ago. We can expect NR to press ahead with cutting staffing levels, for example by cut double-staffed signal boxes to single staffing.
Unless we act decisively and soon, these problems will accelerate.