By a Central Trains driver
RMT rail union reps on Central Trains decided in the first week of March to “suspend” industrial action by guards over the company's new computerised rostering system, Crewplan.
Last week a deal was reached at ACAS under which Central Trains undertook to look into local problems under Crewplan, depot by depot. Union reps on the Company Council now have three weeks to visit depots and collate grievances, and then there will be negotiations on them through a joint working party consisting of reps and managers..
This cannot be considered a victory, since Central Trains had said all along that they would “look at” local problems. The dispute was over the fact that Central Trains had imposed the new rostering system without prior negotiations. The union demand was that Crewplan be withdrawn and then introduced through negotiations.
The dispute started some months ago, and RMT members struck solidly on three days before Christmas. A first problem arose because the dispute linked the Crewplan issue with a demand for improved holiday-working payments over Christmas and New Year.
Central Train bosses conceded the improved holiday-working payments, but only on condition that the union dropped its demand for withdrawal of Crewplan. RMT didn't do that, so RMT guards didn’t work the holidays.
Some members felt sore that they had lost money, and were reluctant to lose further money by more strikes after Christmas. There was also a feeling of isolation in that RMT was the only union fighting against Crewplan when it will affect ASLEF members just as much. A reps’ meeting then called a further ballot for action short of strike, but a planned refusal to collect fares was called off after the company threatened a 50% pay cut and a planned further strike on 24 February was called off for the ACAS talks.
This dispute is not a case of members eager to fight being sold out by officials anxious for a quiet life. But it is not a victory. As strike action has already been taken, the ballot remains valid indefinitely but much momentum will have been lost with these latest negotiations.
It might have been better to settle into a protracted series of strikes (matching Central’s intransigence), one a month for instance, and use those events to generate publicity for a campaign by the union to call into question the competency of National Expresses (parent company of Central Trains) in running a railway, in the run up to the granting of the new franchises, which will happen by November this year.