First Great Western; Rail Gourmet; Northern Rail; Network Rail

Submitted by AWL on 10 June, 2014 - 4:20

A round-up of disputes and struggles at First Great Western, Rail Gourmet, and Northern Rail.


First Great Western

RMT members have been challenging First Great Western for months over several issues that amounted to what the RMT called a “breakdown in industrial relations”. In parallel, RMT members have been fighting an ongoing battle with First Great Western for the London Living Wage for Mitie and Rail Gourmet workers.

Following a strong yes vote for industrial action over the breakdown of industrial relations and a promise to pay the London Living Wage, the RMT has sent out messages to its members that both disputes are “settled”.

The dispute around the breakdown of industrial relations centred on: the unjust sacking of two people; an over-harsh use of the disciplinary policy and increasingly prevalent use of of zero hours contracts on the First Great Western franchise.

The settlement includes a promise to come to an arrangement with the two individuals who were sacked. First Great Western has said it will stick to agreed disciplinary policies in future. First also says it will negotiate over permanent employment with workers on zero hours contracts.  

The London Living Wage will be paid to Rail Gourmet workers from this Summer and to cleaners working for Mitie from early 2015. It is heartening to see that industrial action has forced some concessions. But we need to be wary of First Great Western. It has a track record of breaking promises.  

After pushing First hard with a strong 'yes' vote in favour of taking industrial action, we need to make sure it's not thrown away. First was especially vulnerable to industrial action just over a year away from the expiry of its franchise.

“I hope all will be well”, said one rep, “because it will be a lot harder for RMT to go to its members again for more strikes if First breaks its promise”. We need to show First that we're ready to take action the instant First shows signs of backing out of its commitments.


Rail Gourmet

Strike action by Rail Gourmet (East Midlands Trains contract) workers has been suspended pending further talks.

A successful campaign of harassment, intimidation and misrepresentation by RG management had weakened the resolve of members to take action. A mainly young workforce with little experience of trade unions and without the steadying hand of the two reps (suspended since January) largely responsible for getting the workforce in a position to take strike action in the first place aided management’s efforts.

The union will need to talk to these members and come up with a strategy to counter RG’s dishonest presentation of the union’s case.


Northern Rail

RMT Maintenance Depot Drivers (MDDs) at Northern Rail's Heaton and Neville Hill Traincare depots are currently in dispute with the company over regrading.

In a press release from February, the late RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said:

"RMT firmly believe that the company has been disingenuous in their approach by failing to recognise the multi-skills and the hard work that this group of maintenance depot drivers bring to the Northern Rail operation.

"The union is clear that the job is complex and demanding, and that now is the time for the company to acknowledge that MDDs should be re-graded accordingly in recognition of their role and responsibilities.

"This dispute has been forced on us by the management's refusal to take the real nature of these jobs into account through the re-grading process and it is now down to them to rectify the situation. RMT remains available for talks."

The MDDs have taken strike action and are currently enforcing an overtime ban. The action certainly seems to have ruffled the company's feathers as they have been attempting to induce mainline drivers to carry out duties on the depot that would normally be carried out by the MDDs.

ASLEF is not recognised to represent MDDs and, to its credit, has made it clear to management that their members should not be used to cover MDD work. They have issued a circular to members instructing them so but some Leeds drivers Off The Rails has spoken to do not seem clear on where the dividing line is. Come on ASLEF — you're right on this, but get the message out properly that you support this dispute and that your members will not be used to undermine this action!

In addition, in an email sent amongst Northern Rail management and seen by the RMT, a senior Northern manager praises his team for "covering up the technical failures" that occured during the industrial action.

"Technical failures" are a fact of life in the rail industry but to cover them up suggests a desperate management. Let's hope they come crawling back to the table soon.


Network Rail

Recently we have heard various bits of news regarding jobs reappearing after they were moved/ lost under the phase 2b/c re-organisation of Network Rail maintenance.

At the time we said that the cuts were akin to getting a dog to live without food — it works for a short period then the dog dies.

Welding jobs/teams were lost with the intention of using contractor/ agency staff to cover “routine” rail replacement. This has led to an increase in temporary and emergency speed restrictions with some of these going beyond the standard permitted.

Maintenance of points has also suffered. Under the old regime, there were dedicated teams whose sole concern was looking after points and nothing else. One of the benefits
was that this gave a sense of ownership while also making the bosses more accountable.

These teams were split up and, as we said at the time, this has led to an increase in faults across the whole system. There is some attempt to rectify this problem by the clever use of rostering, but it still leaves a major part of the system poorly maintained.

Even now, after more than 3 years, there are still items of equipment missing off the computerised data base which are only being maintained by the good will of the workers.
If the union had followed up our original strike ballot result with a well organised campaign and the use of industrial action then we would have a more reliable rail system and, better still, more jobs.

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