Rail jobs, staff issues and training

05.01.18

Northern faces three days of strikes and shrunken timetable as talks break down

The RMT union will launch three days of strike action on Northern Rail services next week, as talks over train guards have broken down once again.

Strike action is set for 8, 10 and 12 January, and the operator has released a much-reduced timetable with just a little over 60% of services running.

Mick Cash, the RMT’s general secretary, has criticised the actions of Arriva, the company which runs the Northern franchise, for its handling of talks between the two parties. He argues that under the current proposals the company will run nearly half a million trains a year without a second member of staff on board.

However, Richard Allan, Northern’s deputy managing director, says the company is still dedicated to improving journeys and is prepared to guarantee jobs and pay for conductors until the franchise comes up for renewal in 2025 if an agreement can be reached.

“Northern is committed to investing in new and updated trains, better stations and faster journeys for our customers,” he commented. “Northern is still prepared to guarantee jobs and pay for conductors for the rest of our franchise to 2025 if we can reach agreement on how our colleagues deliver better customer service using those fantastic new facilities.”

Allan went on to say that the government had contacted the RMT directly and offered to guarantee employment for conductors past 2025 if the union brings an end to the long-running dispute.

Announcing that the strikes would continue, Cash said union members were “angry and frustrated” that the talks had not yielded any progress.

The RMT recently came to an agreement with Virgin West Coast to finally end the protracted safety discussions between the two groups before five days of planned strike action over the Christmas period could be realised.

It also entered into discussions with South Western Railway on the same day as Northern, but there has also been little progress in those talks and strikes still seem likely on the same three dates.

Cash said no agreement could be reached on a Northern deal because the operator wanted staff to “surrender to its demands.”

“RMT was prepared to enter into a serious discussion around operational models similar to agreements reached in Wales and Scotland but the door was slammed in our faces,” he remarked.

“As a result of the Arriva Rail North attitude the action goes ahead in defence of rail safety, access and security and the public will understand that we are fighting in the interests of rail passengers across the region.”

In December, the RMT claimed that the West Yorkshire Combined Authority had given its support to the union against Northern because of concerns over passenger safety.

The authority represents Leeds, Bradford, York, Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield councils and is also a key part of Rail North, which oversees the Northern franchise along with the DfT.

Top image: Nick Ansell PA Wire

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Comments

Jerry Alderson   05/01/2018 at 17:07

I'm struggling to keep up with the situation with Northern and would appreciate some reliable journalism that states facts rather than merely presenting both sides' soundbites and carefully worded statements issued via press release or spokespeople. It was clear from the outset that the DfT required Northern to operate at least 50% of services as DCO (not "DOO"). I always interpreted that as DCO+1, so that, say, almost 50% of services would remain as driver and conductor and just over 50% would be driver and OBS. Apart from "exceptional circumstances" (which could only occur on the latter, as with the former the trains would be cancelled) there would be a second person on all trains. With the exception of Merseyrail, where the Labour-controlled client, Merseytravel, has decided to partially fund the new trains by job reductions over the lifetime of those trains (and was very up front about this), I had assumed that all the operators plan to roster two staff on every train that currently has two. The RMT claims that Northern "will run nearly half a million trains a year without a second member of staff on board." Northern is saying that it will "guarantee jobs" (as well as pay). On the face of this the two claims are incompatible. The only way I can think of making the two claims compatible is that - if Northern really does intend to reduce staffing levels on trains - Northern is relying upon natural wastage and the RMT is talking about the end of the franchise when the cumulative natural wastage will have become substantial. Can anyone explain, please, what the actual situation is?

Neil Palmer   05/01/2018 at 17:30

Jerry - you have some very valid questions/points. Not sure if this will help any. A Mick Cash to English translation aid. Cash said union members were “angry and frustrated” that the talks had not yielded any progress. Translation: The talks haven’t yielded any progress because Mick doesn’t know the meaning of the word “negotiate”. Cash said no agreement could be reached on a Northern deal because the operator wanted staff to “surrender to its demands.” Translation: Mick wants Northern to surrender to the RMT’s blackmail (er, demands). “RMT was prepared to enter into a serious discussion around operational models similar to agreements reached in Wales and Scotland but the door was slammed in our faces,” he remarked. Translation: Mick wants his lazier members to be guaranteed they can continue to sit in the back cab 95% of the time and read newspapers and play with their smartphones instead of having to deal with troublesome passengers. “As a result of the Arriva Rail North attitude the action goes ahead in defence of rail safety, access and security and the public will understand that we are fighting in the interests of rail passengers across the region.” Translation: This is a political fight being staged by an obstinate old Luddite and is all about union power to disrupt the railways whenever the RMT chooses.

Northern Conductor   05/01/2018 at 17:51

With regard to the above comments there are valid points and questions raised. As a conductor who is stuck in the middle of this dispute i have no doubts that both the RMT & ARN are being economical with the truth, bordering on lying about what is happening to protect their own interests. Mick Cash will not offer us a fresh ballot on the matter but nor will anyone in a position of authority at ARN tell us what our guaranteed jobs will be or what the t&c's will be. The feeling is that we will primarily be used to work on unmanned stations or on lines of route with numerous unmanned stations, of which there are many. In addition it is anticipated we will have to work split shifts. This is speculation by myself and my colleagues however in the absence of any meaningful information we are unable to make an informed decision about any future role. Both parties need to look to compromise before this dispute escalates and rips apart relationships within depots and ends up in an even sorrier mess than we already have.

Lutz   06/01/2018 at 12:35

The only answer is for rail companies to start sacking people, and seek redress via the courts for the deliberate disruption they are causing. There are also plenty of people in India that can be trained to replace those that have to be removed. Kindly get on with it.

Mikeb   07/01/2018 at 11:40

@Lutz. I accept that these disputes do need to be resolved soon or else they could drag on for years. However, I think everyone who has an interest in rail services would agree that your solution is far too extreme. Not only would it be totally unworkable, it could also result in further industrial unrest throughout the country. Perhaps that is something would like to see!!

Andrew Gwilt   07/01/2018 at 14:34

Greater Anglia are also having strikes but most services won’t be affected. The strikes are only to affect Intercity trains that operates on the London-Norwich mainline service. Because of guards going on strike. https://www.greateranglia.co.uk/about-us/news-desk/news-articles/greater-anglia-run-full-timetable-during-planned-rmt-strike-in

Paul   08/01/2018 at 11:19

We are hearing all the time about the introduction of new longer trains to carry the increasing number of passengers. Why is it then that the rail franchises want to reduce staff on trains and not maintain the current situation of a driver and a guard/ticket collector. If the trains were getting smaller with fewer passengers then i can see the argument. In the event of n incident/situation occurring on a train how can the driver on his own deal with?

Frankh   08/01/2018 at 11:48

"In the event of n incident/situation occurring on a train how can the driver on his own deal with?" He/she can't even if there was a guard on the train. In most circumstances contact control and drive to a station where police/ambulance would be waiting.

Gabriel Oaks   09/01/2018 at 06:53

These strikes are nothing to do with safety but are a political activity by RMT. It is time the 1906 Trade Disputes Act was amended to remove the protection from financial loss resulting from political strike activities.

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