Rail (UK)

Philip Haigh

PHILIP HAIGH ex­am­ines the state of af­fairs that has led to the RMT union and ScotRail be­ing at log­ger­heads over a pay freeze at the same time as train ser­vices are be­ing cut be­cause of COVID restric­tions

- Philip Haigh­Trans­port writer About the au­thor Philip Haigh is a for­mer deputy edi­tor of RAIL who is now a free­lance writer spe­cial­is­ing in rail­ways. He is an as­so­ciate mem­ber of the In­sti­tu­tion of Me­chan­i­cal En­gi­neers. You can con­tact him at philiphaig UK News · Railways · Transportation · Industries · Scotland · Edinburgh · Glasgow · Scottish Government · Network Rail Route 18 · Abellio ScotRail · Armadale · TransPennine Express · Rail Accident Investigation Branch · Railway Industry Association

Dis­con­tent in Scot­land.

BRI­TAIN’S rail­ways face a tough win­ter, with the prospect of in­dus­trial un­rest and ser­vice cuts threat­en­ing a re­turn to the dark days of the early 1980s.

Against a back­drop of eco­nomic dev­as­ta­tion wreaked by COVID-19, from which the rail­way has been al­most to­tally in­su­lated by mas­sive sums of public money, the RMT rail union is now call­ing for in­dus­trial ac­tion as a pay freeze beck­ons.

The sit­u­a­tion is most stark in Scot­land, where there’s a full-scale row between the RMT and ScotRail - and that’s even be­fore the train op­er­a­tor’s ser­vice cuts kick in with the De­cem­ber timetable.

These cuts in­volve ScotRail’s pre­mier Ed­in­burgh-Glas­gow ex­press ser­vices be­ing chopped from ev­ery 15 min­utes to half-hourly, for ex­am­ple.

Around Glas­gow, Cath­cart Cir­cle trains dis­ap­pear dur­ing the day to run only at peak hours. Carstairs will have no ScotRail ser­vices out­side peak hours, while ser­vices for Shotts are halved from two trains per hour each way to one. Both sta­tions lie on dif­fer­ent routes between Ed­in­burgh and Glas­gow. Another route between the two calls at Ar­madale, where ser­vices will re­main at two per hour each way.

The news of cuts to rail ser­vices came as ar­eas in the West of Scot­land, in­clud­ing Glas­gow, moved into more restric­tions de­signed to com­bat the pan­demic. Nonessen­tial shops closed, which forced down de­mand for rail travel.

What, then, of the union row? RMT Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Mick Cash wrote to mem­bers work­ing for ScotRail on Novem­ber 17, say­ing: “In his let­ter to you, the [ScotRail] Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer goes on about public fund­ing and how pay­roll costs were be­ing met by Govern­ment.

“Well, let us be clear, while you have made huge sac­ri­fices dur­ing COVID-19, it is busi­ness as usual for Abel­lio ScotRail. As well as hav­ing their costs cov­ered by the Scot­tish Govern­ment, Abel­lio ScotRail will also be paid a ‘fee’ which will mean they will stand to make over £10 mil­lion in prof­its. If ScotRail can be paid a fee, then RMT mem­bers can be paid a de­cent pay rise.”

By way of con­text, ScotRail’s lat­est ac­counts show it made an op­er­at­ing loss for the year to March 2019 of £7.85m. Its wage bill came to £250m, which would be in­creased by 4% if the RMT’s fig­ure of £10m were added. The lat­est con­sumer in­fla­tion fig­ure stands at 0.9%.

ScotRail said in a press state­ment: “The terms of the Emer­gency Mea­sures Agree­ment (EMA) with the Scot­tish Govern­ment, whereby the Govern­ment has pro­vided ad­di­tional fund­ing to make up the rev­enue short­fall to en­sure staff can be paid and ser­vices can op­er­ate, mean ScotRail has not placed a sin­gle mem­ber of its 5,200 staff on fur­lough, cut any per­ma­nent roles, or made any changes to base staff salaries. This is in stark con­trast to many other trans­port op­er­a­tors across the coun­try, which are cut­ting thou­sands of jobs.”

It added that it can’t be­gin pay talks with­out per­mis­sion from Trans­port Scot­land, and then cited a TSSA union sur­vey of ScotRail that sug­gested that most of its mem­bers were against strikes, in­stead pre­fer­ring job se­cu­rity rather than a pay rise. This prompted the TSSA to ac­cuse ScotRail of try­ing to di­vide and con­quer.

Mean­while, ScotRail driv­ers in ASLEF re­ceived a pay rise be­cause ASLEF ne­go­ti­ated a two-year deal be­fore the pan­demic struck.

While the RMT and ScotRail bash heads over the pay freeze, RMT guards based at Glas­gow Cen­tral are al­ready walk­ing out, with strikes planned for Novem­ber 29, De­cem­ber 6, 13, 20, 27 and Jan­uary 3 (all Sun­days) in a dis­pute over “abuse of dis­ci­plinary pro­ce­dures”.

The wider bal­lot over the pay freeze closes on De­cem­ber 8. It will be for each RMT mem­ber work­ing for ScotRail to de­cide whether to vote for or against in­dus­trial ac­tion. RMT lead­ers want a ‘yes’ vote, but their mem­bers must de­cide whether it’s worth the loss of pay.

With ScotRail al­ready plan­ning ser­vice cuts, there will be less work for staff and this makes it more likely that ScotRail can keep run­ning. At the same time, ScotRail and Trans­port Scot­land might save some wage pay­ments.

This dis­pute will in­evitably reach politi­cians, and it’s not yet clear whether Scot­land’s left­lean­ing SNP govern­ment will side with rail

“If I were at ScotRail, in the cur­rent cli­mate I’d trade a pay freeze for job se­cu­rity. With the econ­omy as it is, I think the RMT has a tin ear to think it will find sym­pa­thy or public sup­port for strike ac­tion.”

work­ers or with the wider tax­pay­ers sup­port­ing the rail net­work.

As well as fight­ing against pay freezes (the RMT is about to bal­lot mem­bers at Tran­sPen­nine Ex­press), the union is seek­ing agree­ments with Net­work Rail and train op­er­a­tors that there will be no com­pul­sory re­dun­dan­cies (it al­ready has this agree­ment with ScotRail).

Cash said in a let­ter to mem­bers: “RMT does not ac­cept that work­ers should pay for the costs of the COVID pan­demic. At this time there will be enor­mous pres­sure on mem­bers from the bosses, govern­ment and me­dia to act in what is their idea of the na­tional in­ter­est. In re­al­ity, they want us to ac­cept job cuts and de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in pay and con­di­tions in their in­ter­est.”

Whether re­dun­dan­cies come and whether they re­sult in in­dus­trial ac­tion re­mains to be seen, but it’s clear that the RMT is not pre­pared to show any flex­i­bil­ity to­wards rail com­pa­nies.

In essence, it ar­gues that any fee that train op­er­a­tors might re­ceive un­der their emer­gency agree­ments should be given to staff as a pay rise and that emer­gency govern­ment fund­ing should al­low all jobs to be kept.

This isn’t the time for mil­i­tant union­ism. If I were at ScotRail, in the cur­rent cli­mate I’d trade a pay freeze for job se­cu­rity. With the econ­omy as it is, I think the RMT has a tin ear to think it will find sym­pa­thy or public sup­port for strike ac­tion. I hope sense pre­vails.

Stay­ing in Scot­land a while longer, I’m hear­ing that po­lice ques­tion­ing of rail staff con­tin­ues fol­low­ing Au­gust’s fa­tal de­rail­ment at Car­mont ( RAIL 912). This sug­gests that the po­lice are try­ing very hard to find ev­i­dence of crim­i­nal be­hav­iour in the ac­ci­dent that left three peo­ple dead after tor­ren­tial rain washed de­bris into the path of a ScotRail High Speed Train.

The mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing between the Rail Ac­ci­dent In­ves­ti­ga­tion Branch, the Of­fice of Rail and Road and the po­lice states: “In the ab­sence of a clear in­di­ca­tion that se­ri­ous crim­i­nal­ity has caused the ac­ci­dent, RAIB will nor­mally have prece­dence in re­spect of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and will as­sume lead re­spon­si­bil­ity for the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

When I was ask­ing ques­tions in Septem­ber about why the re­open­ing of the line was tak­ing so long, Po­lice Scot­land told me that RAIB had “pri­mary own­er­ship of the site in terms of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion”. This sug­gests that there was no clear in­di­ca­tion of se­ri­ous crim­i­nal­ity - yet ques­tion­ing con­tin­ued sev­eral months after the ac­ci­dent.

Fur­ther com­pli­ca­tion comes from com­ments by Net­work Rail Chief Ex­ec­u­tive An­drew Haines to last month’s Rail­way In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion an­nual con­fer­ence.

Haines was talk­ing more gen­er­ally about get­ting prod­uct ap­provals done more quickly, but then said of Car­mont: “An in­ter­ven­tion may well have made things worse.”

NR was al­ready work­ing on the site of the ac­ci­dent to re­in­force Bridge 325 against scour from Car­ron Wa­ter, but it’s hard to see work around the base of the bridge af­fect­ing the site of the land­slip.

To the best of my knowl­edge, the only other work at Car­mont was the in­stal­la­tion of new drains ten years ago. This is clearly rel­e­vant to the ac­ci­dent’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but it seems to me doubt­ful that there’s ev­i­dence to show crim­i­nal­ity.

The work in­stalled a 500-me­tre crest drain along the edge of the field above the cut­ting side. This drain fed wa­ter into a slope drain. It’s pos­si­ble that the crest drain con­cen­trated the flow of wa­ter into the slope drain and this higher flow caused ma­te­rial to wash out onto the track.

Con­versely, had there been no crest drain, then there would have been no con­cen­tra­tion of wa­ter flow to cause the washout. But its ab­sence might have caused the en­tire slope to be­come sat­u­rated with wa­ter and slip.

It seems per­verse to sug­gest that a poorer drainage sys­tem would make the sit­u­a­tion bet­ter. I’d cer­tainly need some con­vinc­ing that in­stalling the crest drain was an ac­tion so reck­less as to be­come crim­i­nal.

 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ?? PAUL BIGLAND/ RAIL. ?? Two ScotRail Class 380s await their next du­ties at Glas­gow Cen­tral on Septem­ber 8. RMT guards based at the sta­tion plan to take strike ac­tion on ev­ery Sun­day un­til Jan­uary 3 while ScotRail also faces a much wider dis­pute over pay.
PAUL BIGLAND/ RAIL. Two ScotRail Class 380s await their next du­ties at Glas­gow Cen­tral on Septem­ber 8. RMT guards based at the sta­tion plan to take strike ac­tion on ev­ery Sun­day un­til Jan­uary 3 while ScotRail also faces a much wider dis­pute over pay.
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK