Across the country, companies are steadily de-staffing our stations - and it is high time that the unions broke their silence and called a halt to it.
Many rural and small stations are now unstaffed, leaving no-one to sell tickets, help passengers, pass on service info or request special stop orders when previous trains are cancelled.
Employers replace human beings with central announcements and self-service machines; and replace directly-employed station staff with low-waged agency workers either on site or in call centres.
Elsewhere, staffing levels are cut to the bare minimum, increasing workload and stress, and making us vulnerable to assault.
TOCs are sneakily cutting ticket office hours by reviewing or ignoring Schedule 17, the agreement brought in pre-privatisation to stop windows closing during advertised opening hours. Why can they get away with this? Maybe because Schedule 17 is 'enforced' (or not) by ATOC - the body that looks after the TOCs' interests!
Companies from London Underground to Southeastern are using internet buying as a pretext to cut ticket-selling staff, ignoring the reality that there are long queues at our windows of people needing help to retrieve their pre-bought ticket or to understand the ever-more-complex system.
Some TOCs have even gone so far as to draft in volunteers! According to First Great Western's brochure,
its 'Station Adoption' scheme "enables individuals, groups or organisations to get involved with their local station", taking on tasks such as cleaning, painting, gardening, reporting faults, and giving out leaflets ie. doing our work without being paid.
Similar schemes are being run by Arriva Trains Wales and Northern Rail. They both exploit the goodwill of community-spirited (but naïve) people, and undermine our jobs.
FGW claims to be "put[ting] the station back into the heart of the community" - more like "putting the profit back in the heart of the bank balance"!
National Campaign Needed
There has never been a greater need for a national campaign to Staff Our Stations. While there are campaigns in particular localities and companies, we also need an umbrella national campaign that can unite and boost each local fight.
We need our unions to organise posters, leaflets, stickers, press releases, a website, and a series of marches and rallies at which workers and passengers can unite to put huge pressure on the government and the companies, backed by the small but dedicated band of Labour MPs who back rail unions' demands.
With such a campaign, industrial action to stop and reverse de-staffing can be well-supported and effective enough to win.
Despite the fact that stations de-staffing creates problems for traincrew, there is no sign of such a campaign from ASLEF: sadly, the Society has a habit of disregarding grades other than drivers. Neither has the TSSA raised its voice above a whisper.
An RMT-led campaign could have a high profile and draw in the other unions. But so far, head office has ignored the demands of the union's own Station Grades Conference to launch such a campaign. RMT's AGM has the chance to insist the union takes up rank-and-file activists' demands - it must do so.