Report on the National Dispute between Network Rail and RMT

This is by an RMT member and Network Rail employee

The potential for a national rail strike grows as RMT members of Network Rail decide enough is enough.

After years of provocation and localised attacks by Network Rail, three separate grades disputes are coming to a head and members are now being balloted for strike action.

Network Rail maintenance staff are being balloted due to the company’s plans to make 1500 jobs redundant. These are the workers who maintain the tracks and signals and ensure that the railways are able to operate safely. Ever since they were brought back in house by Network Rail, the promises to harmonise pay and conditions throughout the country have been false and offers by the company have been pitiful. After promising that if the workers did not agree to the woeful package offered last year by Network Rail, things could stay the same, massive staffing cuts are now being forced through. For the staff remaining, the new terms and conditions will force them to work 39 weekends on nights with no thought for the effect on the workers family life. Most departments are already struggling to keep up with routine maintenance as the railways become busier and these job cuts are seen by all to be potentially dangerous with the spectre of another major train crash looming. Even most managers admit they have no idea how they will cope if these cuts become reality.

The situation has deteriorated so badly that the supervisory grades are also being balloted for action as their proposed terms and conditions are akin to ‘You will work when we say, where we say and for how long.’ Again all hope of a normal family life will disappear if this is allowed to be implemented.

The signallers and operations staff are being balloted over three issues. The first is the company’s decision to do away with detonator protection for engineering possessions (track works) and put all the responsibility for the workers lives in the hands of the signallers. This system of safely enabling staff to maintain the railway has been used for years but Network Rail wants to do away with it to save money. They have also refused to talk to the signallers reps about these changes and their implications. The plain facts are that if this procedure comes in and there is an incident, then the signaller will be arrested and could face charges of manslaughter. They now claim to have withdrawn this procedure but relations have deteriorated so much that the staff do not believe the company and suspect that they will reintroduce this dangerous gamble with people’s lives as soon as they can.

The other two issues are directly related to the staff’s terms and conditions. The management are now ignoring long standing national agreements on rostering, promotion, transfer, redundancy and resettlement. The RMT has always recognised that as technology moves on, there will be a need for staff to be displaced and potentially made redundant. This has been the case since the 1960’s as new signal boxes replaced the old small lever boxes. This process is still going on as new signalling schemes replace the boxes brought in forty years ago and more. For many years staff have been dealt with by using the national agreements with minimal fuss and pain for both sides. Network Rail now seems to be intent on ignoring these agreements and causing maximum distress for the staff involved.

Their bully boy attitude seems to be coming from the very top of this company and its arrogance is second to none. This is a company that has a loyal and dedicated workforce whose only concern is to run the railways safely. Network Rail senior management now seem intent on destroying this workforce in pursuit of telephone number bonuses for saving money. Whilst their workforce wonders where the next attack will come from, they swan around in their swanky hotels and Scottish estates.

This dispute is not about money, it is about preserving our railways, it is about ensuring the public can travel safely and allowing the staff to do their duties safely. We do not trust this company and its senior managers.

The staff has had enough and are drawing a line in the sand.

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