Thursday, 9 March 2017

Northern Rail strike on Monday unjustifiable on a multitude of grounds, but all locals should be aware

It is a depressing reality that we are in another era of rail strikes. There are many reasons for this and now is not the time and place to get into a detailed analysis of why the RMT union have chosen to strike, although I will comment briefly below.
The important issue is the nature of the strike, the impact it has on customers both local nad visiting and the extent of the strike.
The best source of information is here: https://www.northernrailway.co.uk/industrial-action
It is important to note that some services are running still.
Of course this could change so keep checking the Northern web site.

The issue: this is one that is being faced all over the world = automation and modernisation:
The consequence of both is whether, in the future, a modern train can be operated by a driver as they are designed to; or whether modern trains have to have the doors opened by a guard, not the driver. I oppose the strike for a number of reasons but .....
To try and give a balanced view of the strike and the background have a read of the Guardian (not exactly a friend of the govt or railway companies) here:
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/feb/28/southern-merseyside-and-northern-rail-staff-to-strike-in-march

Politics: that this is a politically motivated strike is without a doubt. This relates to specific union politics, namely who is top dog in the union movement, and a bit against the government. The rail companies are caught in the middle.
Do driver operated trains work?
In urban areas the answer is clearly yes. See the Metro in Tyne and Wear and the London Undergound. And large parts of Scotland, mainland Europe etc etc .
This does require the right technology / trains. Clearly there are not happening in our area of the North East or the Tyne valley line either right now or in the near future. So again the strike is premature. But what is more galling is that Northern - since they acquired the franchise - have accepted that on the Tyne valley line we should have more security and protection for passengers, notably on Friday's and Saturday nights, and have acted. I would urge union members to think long and hard about Mondays strike and the way forward.
This is what the RMT union rep says:
“The union’s position on driver-only operation [DOO] is perfectly clear,” he said. “We will not agree to any introduction of DOO and will fight to retain the safety-critical role of the guard and to keep a guard on the train.”
He said the action would have been preventable if the companies had “listened to the union’s deep-seated safety concerns, had taken them seriously and had put passenger safety before profit”.

The right to strike: I do not disagree with this but already certain mission critical jobs and services are not allowed to strike by law. For example the army, security services, police, etc.
Other countries have rules preventing strikes by key providers of commuter services. Many of the upset southern rail suffererers want this law introduced allowing a judge to balance the right to strike as against the right of ordinary commuters to get to work: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/22/rail-workers-could-banned-striking-protect-peoples-right-get/
This proposal did not pass the House of Commons, and is not I stress proposed as law by government. But the RMT is playing a dangerous game.
Ultimately, this issue comes down to one key thing: can unions hold back the march of machines?





1 comment:

  1. Guy,

    Firstly may I congratulate you on your efforts to push for the reopening of Gilsland station and I look forward to a positive outcome on this.

    Regarding the strike however, I would be highly surprised if any of your rail-using constituents would be happy to see a driver only train. You say it's about politics, yet I can confidently say if Labour were in power and wanted to introduce DOO, the RMT would still react in the same way, ultimately to protect the jobs and the safety of the travelling public. That is, afterall, what unions are there for. Yes, Northern have invested heavily in Train Safety Officers, but I should point out that they will only ever be visible on limited journeys and above all else, they are NOT safety critical. For the uninitiated, this means they cannot protect the train in the event of an accident and if the driver is incapacitated, effectively there would no longer be anyone that is qualified to assist. I don't know about you, but for many people this would be a huge concern especially in isolated rural areas in the north, such as Northumberland. Whilst rail systems such as the Tyne and Wear Metro may work in principle using DOO, you may be surprised to learn how many people are reluctant to travel on them later in the evening for fear of their own safety. Also, from an operational perspective, the T&WM, like the London Underground and even National Rail services in and around the capital are completely different and cannot be compared to those which we have in rural Northumberland. It's not about 'modernisation', it's simply about cost cutting. Modernisation, is more about providing Northumberland with NEW trains, which all governments- regardless of party, have failed to do.

    Regardless of politics, I think all parties involved in the ongoing disputes with train operating companies have been very negligent in not getting this resolved sooner. It was the Government that made DOO a requirement as part of the franchise agreement, therefore it is ultimately Chris Grayling's responsibility to sort this mess out. The train operating companies are only attempting to carry out what they have been instructed to do. Did the DFT honestly think that they could bring in such an ill-thought out plan without a reaction from the unions and rail users?

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