According to an article in the Times (12 May), ‘David Cameron is facing growing pressure to take on rail unions amid anger over workshy practices that are said to be putting the future of the network at risk.’
So the rail unions are putting the network at risk? Not according to the opinion, for example, of the Potter’s Bar accident enquiry judge. He recently ruled that ‘Overall responsibility for the breach of duty lay with Railtrack at senior management level and their failures were significant and extensive.’
The article continues that train companies are troubled by our unions insisting on ‘a rigid observance of health and safety regulations’! So how should we observe H&S if not rigidly? When he fined Network Rail £3 million for its part at Potters Bar the judge said that Railtrack’s standards and procedures were ‘seriously inadequate’. Is that the example that train companies want us to follow then, from one of their own? Is ‘seriously inadequate’ good enough?
Perhaps one of the reasons that union members rigidly insist on health & safety is that if we don’t apply the standards and procedures correctly we can lose our jobs. We’ve all seen that happen to workmates. How many senior managers at Railtrack lost their jobs because of Potters Bar? None! That makes it a bit easier to see where the different approaches between workers and managers to H&S come from. In addition, our judgement is not clouded by the bonus culture among senior management which gives them an incentive to cut corners.
According to a dossier of complaints by train companies, health and safety is one example of bitterly defended rights. Of course it is! We want people to be able to travel and work safely on the railways.
Other ‘workshy practices’ include a failure to embrace flexible working (split shifts, no breaks because of operational exigencies, etc) and drivers being paid a bonus to work overtime. Why should we ‘embrace’ these things without being paid for the sacrifices we are making?! If we are going to be making more money for a train company we’d like a share of it too.
But that is not what the government and employers want to do. The government wants to reduce the subsidy it gives to the railway so that it can pay back the money it spent to bail out the banks. The companies know that subsidies will be reduced so in order to maintain their profits they want to attack our terms and conditions, employment law and health and safety regulations.