Day Three of ASLEF annual conference

16 May 2012

The ASLEF annual conference (AAD) is taking place this week in the Liner Hotel in Liverpool. Among items discussed today were threats of driverless trains, the low number of women and ethnic minorities in the driving grade, the age of retirement, union communications and Colombia.

THREATS TO THE DRIVING JOB WILL LEAD TO ACTION

Boris Johnson has said he is determined to run London Underground without train drivers: and the union is just as resolute that drivers are vital and must be retained if the capital is to have a safe and reliable tube service. This year’s AAD committed the union to ‘an immediate dispute’ with any rail company, including London Underground, if any rolling stock is designed without a driver’s cab. ‘No consultation or negotiation is necessary in such circumstances,’ delegates declared, who wanted the union to begin strike ballots while explaining the risks to the public.

London Underground’s ‘Operational Strategy’ is also causing concern. Formally it is a document focussing on ‘embracing modernisation and technology’, but its real intention is spelled out in the first paragraph. This says LU wants to reduce operational costs by 20% - by cutting staff number and workers’ conditions. If these plans move from paper to practical proposals, the union will be prepared to ballot for strike action.

PAID RELEASE AND UNION TIES

ASLEF is to ensure that it has agreements with all the rail companies guaranteeing paid release and travel for its representatives when they are at meetings that are part of the bargaining procedures. Today’s conference also asserted the right of all ASLEF members to wear union regalia when they are on duty.

WHEN IS IT TIME TO RETIRE?

The union is to seek advice on sanctions that could legally be taken against members who do not conform to the union’s policy on retirement by staying on at work after 65. We will revise the rule book to cover any changes at the next possible occasion.

This followed a lively and animated debate at the union’s Liverpool conference.

The Bletchley branch, for example, has a London Midland driver over 65 but local members feel this is wrong in principle for several reasons. Firstly, it is wrong for people over 65 to be in work, when 22% of young people are unemployed. Secondly, it is a step towards people dying when they are still working and not having the time to enjoy the fruits of their labours. Thirdly people working after 65 have a detrimental effect on the pension fund, as they are not paying in as a young recruit would.

We cannot allow individual rights to take precedence over collective agreements, it was argued, and therefore the union must defend existing agreements that have a default retirement age of 65.

‘Sixty-five. That’s enough,’ was the concise summary from Birmingham.

Union vice president Tosh McDonalds said that 1.3 million young people are unemployed ‘and in my branch we have a member of 65 who is still working. That can’t be right. It doesn’t matter that he is pleasant and popular. Every day that is worked by someone over 65 is a rest day worked.

‘Retirement is not an easy decision for a person to make. That is why there should be an agreement that defines a retirement age. Then you know where you are.

‘This new element of personal choice can force people to remain in work because this becomes the norm. But staying on at work discriminates against the old, the young and those in the pension scheme.’

Yet Tony Cashman put a different view. ‘Morally or legally it is discrimination to say a person is fine to drive a train one day, and then on their 65th birthday they are suddenly incompetent. The union shouldn’t be going along with this, because it is wrong. Besides we have so few people who do work over 65 it has very little effect,’ he said.

There is also the fact that neither the employee or employer pays National Insurance , and neither contributes to the pension fund.

The General Secretary reminded delegates that people deserve a good quality of life in retirement, not the opportunity to work until they die. ‘I don’t believe everyone is greedy, any more than I think people become decrepit on their sixty-fifth birthday.‘

Delegates were also reminded that they ‘worked to live’ and didn’t ‘live to work’, but this was no easy debate. We were reminded of the sad experience of seeing people ‘withering away and wilting’ as they retire.

Retired member Ray Jackson said that capitalism thrived on dividing working people and this was a perfect issue for it. ‘That is why we must sacrifice individual decisions in favour of collective agreements. And why I believe that we should retired at 65. I did and I love it.!’ he declared.

‘Every one of us has a moral responsibility to those kids you see on the streets hopeless and poor. How can you look them in the face if you are working, and stopping them from doing so?’ asked Martin Struthers, while Andy Botham declared, ‘We want people to have decent pensions. That is what we should be fighting for, so that no one has to fear retirement and the loss of money they will inevitably face. People don’t work on because they want to, but because they fear the alternative.’

ON TRACK WITH DIVERSITY

Muriel Robison introduced the report the union had commissioned to write on the question of the low number of female and ethnic minorities in the driving grade: ‘On Track with Diversity’.

The main points she raised and the full report can be seen in this news section under the heading, ‘Why are train drivers male and white? Union asks’ which was also posted today.

Muriel explained how the information in the report had been compiled, with useful sources being the employers, the RSSB and the union’s own statistics.

Having established an accurate picture of the problem, the report asks what can be done to remedy the situation.

The union can encourage women and ethnic minority members to be more active and promote the importance of equality and diversity among the membership. But the fact is that while the union is concerned about the issue, it is not our fault, as we do not employ staff.

The report suggests, however, that we could work with employers to support positive action, and also consider the use of legal channels.

Muriel ended on a positive note, saying that at least there is no issue of unequal pay in the industry. The union will monitor the position over the next12 months and report back to next year’s conference.

IMPROVING OUR COMMUNICATIONS

The National Organiser Simon Weller brought members up to date with union plans for improving the internal communications of the union and especially the website and social networks.

Simon felt the key to good communications is the updating and efficient use of the membership base. We can then use emails and mobile phones as significant tools. He assures members that data protection will be rigidly applied and be kept within the union.

The web has several audiences, but the most important is our members. The plan is that when a person logs on, the system will identify them and make the information relevant to them instantly available.

‘Rather than have to go to the website, the aim is to have a concentration on mobile communication devices.’ Other ideas like branch secretary and other portals, more carefully targeted texts and emails and the use of variety of social media were outlined.

‘This is all important at a time when postal charges are rocketing,’ the National Organiser said. The speed and flexibility of the new systems will be especially useful at times of industrial action.

The plans are to make the new system live before the end of the year.

JUSTICE FOR COLOMBIA

The Director of Justice for Colombia, Mariela Kohon, spoke to today’s AAD to urge more of our union branches to affiliate to the organisation. ‘Despite the government propaganda in that country, it remains the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionists,’ she said.

‘Anyone who opposes the government is threatened, tortured or killed. Usually they are accused of being terrorists as justification.’ Within the last month, the sugar cane union’s general secretary was murdered on his doorstep while two others have simply disappeared.

For organising against privatisation, a teacher’s union leader has been imprisoned for years, with no sign of a trial or even a pretence of justice.

‘If we were in Colombia today, many delegates would not be alive.’

JFC campaigns to have trade unionists released from prison, end preferential trade agreements between the EU and Colombia and put an end to British military aid for that country.’

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