Fourth Day of ASLEF conference

20 May 2010

Some highlights of the fourth day of the ASLEF 2010 Annual Assembly of Delegates included • SIMBID speeds • First Aid Freight • Rep training • Franchise bid • Pensions

SIMBID SPEEDS

On safety grounds, the union is to campaign for a maximum line speed of 40 mph when working over Simplified Bi Directional Lines (SIMBID). In the interim period, before an agreement is reached, the union is to advise all member to adhere to this limit when working trains in the ‘wrong’ direction.

FIRST AID FREIGHT

Union representatives have called for first aid kits to be place in all freight locos because lone working is increasing and yard and terminals are being destaffed. Concerns were also expressed about noise levels in 66 locos. One driver who complained about excessive heat in the cab was told he could ‘get out and stand in the shade of the train’!

REP TRAINING

The union is to concentrate on providing in-house, grade and industry training for its representatives rather than the more generalised TUC courses. Efforts will also be made to provide subsidised childcare facilities. ‘Women should not have to choose between family obligations and union activity,’ said Allyson Jones from Longsight.

FRANCHISE BID STRENGTHENS PUBLIC RAIL CALL

A lively debate at the union’s annual conference concluded with a re-affirmation of the existing policy of calling for the re-nationalisation of the railways - and recognised that the East Coast franchise bid had a part to play in that aim. The bid will be a publicity exercise to expose corrupt franchises - and there will be tight control over money spent on it.

West Brompton wanted the union to cease the exercise because union members want subsidised nationalised railways - and making a franchise bid was in the branch’s view not compatible with that policy. He also said the idea had not been put to a conference, nor had the membership been consulted. ‘ If the EC has new ideas about how to take on the government, it should come to conference before ‘starting to play games,‘ he declared.

Derby couldn’t see the point of bidding for a franchise. ‘I don’t want to run a franchise or waste any money on it. Franchise bids cost £3 to £5 million and we won’t get that back. He supported the Cooperative ideal but we shouldn’t be misleading people into supporting us if it was all a joke. They’d just think we had taken them for a ride and then chickened out. And what if we got it?

Feltham said it was a change in policy – away from nationalisation. Policy was made at the AAD – and besides everyone in the country knows franchising fails – we don’t need to spend money to prove it. ‘The best cooperative is a nationalised railway.’

Acting general secretary Simon Weller explained that the bid was an attempt to inform and define a debate that is wider than railway. ‘It is about how we run public services as a whole. Why not have workers’ control of public services?’ He argued that few people wanted to return to the British Rail model and we needed to have a clear idea of what we want when we talk about re-nationalisation. ‘A first step is to expose the cartel system of rail franchises, using this bid as a political tool.’

There were concerns that it could be mis-interpreted in the media as the union betraying its principles. ‘70% of the public want a renationalised network, not a union stunt,’ one delegate argued, but Vice President Tosh McDonald said there was ‘nothing as painful as the birth of a new idea’.

RAIL PENSIONS SECURE – FOR THE MOMENT

Dave Tyson, a former ASLEF President and now Trustee Director of the Railways Pension Scheme (RPS), told this year’s annual conference that last year’s world financial crisis led to the value of the RPS falling from £19 billion to somewhere in the region of £14 billion at the height of the crisis. However by the start of this year it has risen again to around £17.5 billion.

At the end of 2009 it had a value of £16.3 billion, made up of

· £7.1 billion in UK equities

· £1.8 billion in global equities

· £1.2 billion in property and

· £1.9 billion in private equity.

Dave explained that the job of the trustees under the stewardship of the Trustee Investment Committee, the staff at RailPen and the investment managers, was to deliver returns so that pensions could be paid. They invest with over 40 investment managers, the biggest being Black Rock who hold just under £3 billion.

He said he had recently been at a monitoring meeting where one manager said he would only invest in sound companies like Nestle or British American Tobacco. ‘His view of the world was that the cheaper a product could be produced and profit maximised, then all was well and good. I thought, ‘If it’s as easy as that, why are we paying these firms?!!’

In fact if we had a person in-house doing the work and delivering large returns, they would quickly be enticed away by a big investment firm. We pay investment managers for their specialist knowledge.

Personally Dave has a moral issue with investment with a tobacco firm, but he explained that he has to do what is best to maintain and grow the fund. The trustees do have investment principles that take account of environmental and ethical issues and it is being constantly revised.

Although it was good news that the scheme is ‘clawing its way back’ to its previous value, serious difficulties remain. One factor is that we are living longer. Currently we have a membership of 339,000, of whom 86,000 are active members, 108,000 deferred members and 144,000 are pensioners. The Trustees duty was to ensure these was enough money to pay out pensions both now and in the future, which is why there was an actuarial report every three years. One is being prepared on the basis of the 2009 figures.

The RPS is unusual in that it is an industry-wide scheme with 100 sections and over 200 sponsoring employers so each section has to be measured individually as well establishing how strong each employer is. This is known as the Covenant Assessment. If an employer fails (like East Coast) the government steps in as the employer for a period.

Dave also spoke about the ‘great idea’ of the Pension Protection Fund. Every scheme in the UK has to pay a levy to the PPF which then takes schemes into the fund, along with their assets, if the employer becomes insolvent. Pensions continue to be paid and those expecting to do so have 90% of their benefits preserved. He had mixed thoughts, agreeing with the principle but failing to understand why TOCs have to pay into a fun they will never use.

The change of government brought uncertainty but he was disturbed to hear the Prime Minister saying final salary schemes are ‘unaffordable’.

Dave said the RPS is a well run strong scheme with massive assets and excellent people in charge of it, but warned that employers will want to reduce benefits and seek longer deficit recovery periods. ‘They may want to provide an alternative to our current pension provision,’ he said, before concluding that he was certain that a strong union like ASLEF ‘will do whatever it takes to protect pensions for ourselves and for future members and pensioners.’

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