Day Four of ASLEF annual conference

17 May 2012

The ASLEF annual conference (AAD) is taking place this week in the Liner Hotel in Liverpool. Health and safety was the major topic, but delegates also heard from Dave Tyson, a Trustee Director on the Railway Pension Scheme, who identified a new threat to pensions from the European Union...

HUNT PROBLEMS CONDEMNED

Mick Whelan is to seek a meeting with the British Transport Police to explain the dangers and delays caused by fox hunts straying onto rural lines. They have caused the deaths of animals, damage to rolling stock, delays to passengers and shock and distress to drivers.

Mick will seek ways of improving the policing and prosecution of hunts that trespass onto the railway.

CONSULTATION COMPLAINTS

Employers are obliged by law to consult with health and safety reps on many issues – but often this is a shallow exercise they carry out while implementation is being prepared in the background. The union’s objective is to make agreement, rather than consultation, the legal requirement.

DVDs ARE NOT ENOUGH FOR ROUTE LEARNING

Road learning DVDs may have some merits, but they are no substitute for real live experience of going over routes. ASLEF will seek agreements that all road learning, route refreshing and retention arrangements must include physically crossing the route.

SUSPICIONS OVER HUMAN FACTORS

There is concern about the increasing use of ‘human factor consultancy’ agencies like Arcadia Alive during safety of the line incident investigations. While they can offer useful driver support programmes, there are concerns that they are increasingly being asked to go further – and organise psychometric testing of drivers involved in an accident. The executive committee intends to investigate these agencies and assess the decision making within train companies.

PREGNANT ISN’T SICK

When a woman driver tells her employer she is pregnant, there is often a knee-jerk reaction to take her off the track, regardless of the outcome of an individual risk assessment, even if this is carried out. ‘This is ridiculous!’ said conference delegate Wendy Hurst. ‘She is pregnant, not sick!’

She called for an individual risk assessment for each pregnant driver with the proviso that all decisions reached should be in consultation with everyone involved.

‘The present system can lead to women not telling companies when they become pregnant to avoid being taken off driving duties,’ said Alison Miller.

RUBBER MOUNTINGS FOR 66s?

The Class 66 remains an excessively noisy loco which contributes to the deterioration of hearing in our freight members. The high level of noise also has critical safety issues because it can lead to misunderstanding and missed communication during radio communication.

‘We have had testing done, and it falls within legal limits – but that’s not enough,’ said Mick Whelan as he committed the union to addressing the issue. One solution was the fitting of rubber mounted engines.

FREIGHT NIGHTS SHOULD BE REDUCED

Guidelines from the Railway Safety and Standards Board would rule out the current practice of rostering eleven-hour night turns for freight drivers. The executive committee will discuss with companies how it would be possible to reduce night driving hours.

BACKING FOR NATIONAL PENSIONERS CONVENTION

ASLEF is urging branches that are not affiliated to the National Pensioners Convention to consider doing so. The union’s retired members committee says it represents one and a half million pensioners, campaigns and produces documents and generally acts as ‘a bastion against this government’s policies on welfare and pensions’.

‘The NPC especially needs our backing at this time because its many activities mean it is facing a financial crisis,’ says retired members’ section (RMS) secretary Tony West. The union is also to consider enrolling all retired members into the RMS.

PENSIONS: NEW THREAT FROM EUROPE

Dave Tyson’s speech to today’s conference gave an explanation of the railway pension scheme, the role of the trustee and a clear update of the current value of the fund before moving on to concentrate on two themes: corporate governance and a new threat from Europe - Solvency 2.

Dave warned against moving to a CPI scheme to measure inflation from the current RPI, saying he believed on average it would be 0.8% lower. ‘That may not seem much; but if you average it out over the life of a pensioner who may live 20 years plus into retirement then it soon mounts up,’ he declared. He also explained that there were a number of institutions seeking to protect pensions including the trust deed and rules; legislation and actuarial laws; the pension protection fund and the pension regulator.

As regards corporate governance, Dave assured delegates that, ‘We have always insisted that executive pay should be aligned with shareholder interests and there should never be payment for failure in the companies we invest in.’

The previous Labour government changed the Companies Act in 2002 to give shareholders an advisory vote on directors pay. ‘Railpen has made full use of this to oppose excess pay,’ he assured delegates. ‘Clearly we have had more defeats than victories with maybe 20 to 30 in the last nine years. This has been mainly down to shareholder - many of whom are pension schemes not exercising their rights. I believe this is changing as we see investors rebelling in the current voting season.

‘Proposals were announced in January to give shareholders a binding vote on remuneration and exit payments. I welcome this.’

Finally Dave warned of a threat from Europe. ‘Insolvency 2 could be ‘the biggest single threat to final salary pensions in the UK’.

If introduced, it would effectively mean that sponsoring companies would have to put millions of pounds into their schemes thus speeding up the total demise of final salary pension provision in the UK. Some estimates expect the cost to be somewhere in the region of 500 billion Euros in additional funding.

‘If the Brussels bureaucrats do not back off, I believe there should be a campaign of trustee disobedience where trustees and parties to pension schemes refuse to implement an idiotic and pointless law that threatens companies, jobs, the economy – and most of all the pensions that many of us have worked for over many years.’

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