Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Comment- Rail needs a union with Unions.

Waterloo Underground station is closed during the summer industrial action of 2015 which crippled the
capital in a dispute over rostering of the 'Night Tube'.
Before I start let me just say- I am not anti-trade union. I am however dismayed at the relationship between trade unions and the rail industry. If you keep up to date with current affairs it seems that barely a week goes by without some sort of conflict; There are the well documented strikes by tube workers over rosters for the 'Night Tube', strikes in the West of England over the concerns of maintenance staff and just this week reports that London Underground's Waterloo & City Line will be brought to a halt because just three members of one union have voted for strike action.

The result of all this- the government is taking action to quash the unions and make it far more difficult for members to strike. New limits on the turnout required at strike ballots could cripple the unions and spark a prolonged conflict between the unions, the industry and the government.
Surely there is an alternative? I believe there is. The rail industry and trade unions need to work together for the good of union members. Right now it seems that the unions are prepared to stick their foot into any conflict in the interests of their members- and that foot will not budge. The primary role of the unions is of course to protect the interests of their members, and this should be supported. However this cannot be at the cost of progress, reform and improvement. The rail industry is being held back because every time a change, or improvement is proposed the trade unions oppose it. Why- because the unions have the power to hold the industry to ransom with their demands. The result stagnates the industry and forces the continuation of archaic practices in the interests of job security. It should be remembered that this is a growing industry. Jobs are being created and while some job roles will change in the course of industry developments there is the opportunity to retain staff within the industry- and in good jobs. The whole industry, trade unions included, needs to embrace the future. I am not suggesting for one moment this should be at the expense of employees, but a balanced approach needs to be taken. Unions need to take a holistic attitude. To protect their members while not showering the industry in unreasonable demands that stifle growth and ultimately prevent job creation- not to mention preventing improvements for the travelling public.

First Great Western passengers faced disruption over the
summer as strikes over future duty changes in relation to the
new Hitachi 'Super Express' trains hit services.
The unions seem intent with picking a fight with everything the industry tries to do. Recently I turned a page of a railway publication to find a full page advertisement by one trade union- it concerned the 'Northern Powerhouse' project, and slammed the amount of investment and the impact the project could have on it's members. This organisation claims to be pro-rail, however does nothing for it's own image by using statements which are, at best, 'imaginative'. One line on the page deplored Northern Rail's use of '50 year old Nuclear locomotives'. Yes, that is right 'Nuclear locomotives'! Is it really true that Northern Rail is using engines glowing with radiation, probably recovered from the depths of Chernobyl and clearly a hazard to our health? Or maybe they powered by their own internal nuclear reactors?.. Of course the line refers to the DRS class 37's being used by Northern Rail on the Cumbrian coast. Yes- these engines have hauled nuclear flask trains, and yes, some of them have celebrated their 50th birthday- but what is the point being made here? The locomotives are reliable and are providing a cost effective stop-gap solution to a rolling stock shortage. The fact that they have hauled nuclear traffic is totally irrelevant and pure scaremongering. This organisation is trying to make a point and instead heading off on a mis-informed 'anti-rail' tangent. Beneath this scaremongering headline there is a genuine message- The UK urgently needs more, fit for purpose, diesel trains. So why not say that? It may be less dramatic but who can fault the statement? This is a point that everyone can get behind; from government, TOC's, the public and the unions and their members.

Public support for the unions right now is at a low. After all these people have had their lives disrupted by strike action by employees whom they consider to be well paid and in good jobs. Surely the unions need to work on their public image. Their considerable clout could be used for the good of the railways and in campaigns the public will support- Staff at stations, a member of customer service staff on board all trains for example (and as long as they are employed and paid does it really matter if they are a guard or a 'train manager'?). We need to end the situation where every union demand can stop the country. Strikes are a tool of last resort and I don't advocate restrictions to prevent them- but the right battles need to be picked. Sometimes job roles will change. The unions should be mediators to the industry not dictators.

I return to my opening- I am not anti-trade union. I agree with much of what they stand for. However until a union can, pun intended, 'strike' a balance between protecting its members and allowing the industry to move forward I'm afraid I'll not be signing up.

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