No to driver restructuring

Submitted by Anon on 22 October, 2004 - 11:04

EWS wants to introduce a new driver restructuring initiative.

EWS is touting an offer of £40k + £5k in bonuses for drivers, for a 45-hour week, with drivers taking on rolling stock technicians’ duties, train preparation and other work. The train crew Company Council reps — and the drivers — have rejected this. Groundstaff know that this offer would further encroach on their work (the company has already sent new drivers on shunters’ courses).

RMT votes to fight

RMT members voted 54% to strike, and 75% for industrial action short of strike. The union called two weekends of strike action (9/10 and 16/17 October) and a ban on overtime, rest day working and higher-grade working from 9 October.

EWS dug in and played dirty. It cancelled RMT reps’ release, not even releasing them from work to attend negotiations. Then the company obtained an injunction banning the strike. The judge ruled that the strike could not go ahead because RMT had not notified both EWS and EWSI of the impending action. EWSI? Who? The employer reckons that EWSI (the “I” is for International) is a separate company, which operates in the terminals.

The full absurdity of this ruling is in the fact that to notify both of the “two” employers, RMT would have had to send two letters to the same person in the same office!

Law serves bosses

The injunction was proof — if we needed it — that the courts are there to do the employer’s bidding, and stop us fighting back.

Over the last two decades, our unions have been shackled by a laws designed to stop us fighting for workers’ rights — exhaustive ballot procedures, bans on “political” strikes and solidarity action, limits on numbers of pickets. Introduced by the Tories, these laws are being kept on the statute books by New Labour.

But, although EWS won the legal battle, it did not win the war. The union won at appeal and got the injunction overturned and the strike declared legal. There are some injustices so blatant that even the courts can’t uphold them. But even when employers can’t use the law to stop a strike, they can use it to stall it and undermine it.

This is the start of what could be a bitter struggle. Attacks and propaganda from management have incensed rank-and-file workers and galvanised us to fight. Even if we had had to re-ballot, we would have got a bigger majority!

Keeping up the fight

We need the other unions on board with this fight. ASLEF has voted overwhelmingly to reject the driver restructuring. Now it must turn that vote into action. Groundstaff and engineers are organised by RMT, but ASLEF represents the majority of EWS drivers. The two unions should strike together.

Prospects in the CSEU look less promising. In the run-up to RMT’s abortive strike, it mailed members advising them to cross picket lines and work normally. Time for its rank-and-file members to revolt and assert basic trade union principles!

The grades must stick together too — for example, defying EWS’s attempts to exclude groundstaff union reps from talks on driver restructuring. And there must be no short-sighted money-grabs that worsen conditions for others.

Steve Hedley: victim of casualisation

Railway engineering tester Steve Hedley has been sacked — in a case which shows how vulnerable agency staff are.

Years ago, Steve worked for GTRM at Euston, but was stitched up and sacked in 1998. Management victimised him because of his work as an RMT rep, and a union campaign was unable to win his reinstatement.

Since then, Steve has continued to work on the railways, but now has to get work via agencies. This is typical of the privatised railway, where skilled track and engineering workers have been pushed out of secure, permanent jobs into taking their chances with agencies.

Steve had been working, via an agency, for Westinghouse. When a box went missing whilst he was on duty, Westinghouse tried to make Steve pay £800. Even though the agency said it would cover the cost, Westinghouse insisted that Steve pay personally. When he refused, they refused to let him work for them again. It amounts to the sack.

As Westinghouse is a large employer in the area, this has severely restricted Steve’s ability to get work. He and his family now do not have a reliable income.

Casualisation

Hiring staff through agencies is a form of casualisation. It allows companies to pick up and drop workers with few of the obligations of formal employers. Result: fewer rights and more uncertainty for workers, and a less safe railway for the public.

But why would the companies care about that so long as their profits roll in? Companies treat agency workers like this to root out “trouble-makers” (i.e., people who stand up for themselves and fellow workers), to keep everyone else scared and compliant, and, often, drunk on the sense of their own importance, just because they can.

Fighting back

Rail workers need to fight for the rights of every one of our agency workmates who is sacked or mistreated. We need to get the agency workforce unionised and active, and to get RMT to fight seriously for the rights of agency workers. And we need to end the scandal of agency working by winning permanent, secure jobs for all railworkers in a publicly-owned railway industry.

As for Steve, he is not taking his sacking lying down, but unfortunately is getting only limited support from union head office. Undeterred, Steve and his workmates are organising pickets at Westinghouse worksites. They are protesting against the sacking, and encouraging other workers at the sites to pursue their grievances, whichever company they work for — for example, the site supervisors on the Channel Tunnel project, whose pay has been halved from £90 per shift to £45. Go along and support the pickets: ring 07985 438301 for details.

The above articles have been adapted from Off The Rails, the railworkers’ bulletin of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. More details from: 020 7207 3997.

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