Railway engineering tester Steve Hedley has been sacked - in a case which shows how vulnerable agency staff are.
Several years ago, Steve used to work for GTRM at Euston, but was stitched up and sacked in 1998. Management victimised him because of his effective 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, and when he - quite rightly - refused, they refused to let him work for them again. It amounts to the sack.
As Westinghouse is such as 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 or guaranteed work.
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.
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' (ie. people who stand up for themselves), to keep everyone else scared and compliant, and often, just because they can. They act like they are drunk on the sense of their own importance.
Steve Hedley is not taking his sacking lying down. Unfortunately, he is getting limited support from union head office, which seems to see Steve's case as hopeless. But 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 link project whose pay has been halved from £90 per shift to £45. Go along and support the pickets: ring 07985-438301 for details.
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 agency workers' rights. And we need to end the scandal of agency working by winning permanent, secure jobs for all railworkers in a publicly-owned railway industry.