ASLEF evidence to Transport Committee

05 July 2016

Ahead of GTR's appearance before the House of commons Transport Select Committee today, here is ASLEF's supplementary evidence which we have submitted.

1. In our submission to the Committee in May 2016 ASLEF stated our opposition to Driver Only Operation (DOO)and its forms, including Driver Controlled Operation (DCO) and Driver Door Operation (DDO) across the British rail network. We firmly believe this method of operation is less safe for passengers and the workforce and we will not agree to the extension of DOO, DCO or DDO.

2. We draw attention to the safety implications of DOO which have been highlighted over the last 12months with incidents at Hayes, South Croydon and Wickham where the absence of a guard has compromised passenger safety and the passenger rail experience. We would further contend that vulnerable passengers are reassured by a members of staff on the train particularly at a time when sexual assaults on the railway are at their highest ever levels.

3. We note that in February 2016 the Department for Transport’s Director of Passenger Rail Services Peter Wilkinson and the third highest paid civil servant in Whitehall told a public meeting in Croydon organised by Conservative MP Gavin Barwell that train drivers were ‘muppets’ who earned £60,000 a year. Mr Wilkinson then said that he will enforce changes to drivers’ conditions and added “we’re going to have punch ups and we will see industrial action and I want your support” before concluding that ‘we have got to break them.’

4. ASLEF has repeatedly written to Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin MP seeking clarification of Mr Wilkinson’s comments and asked if they reflect government policy. Mr McLoughlin has not denied this. Mr McLoughlin and his rail minister Claire Perry have refused to meet the union to hear our concerns.

5. Govia won the 7 year contract in 2014 and is a partnership between UK train and bus company Go Ahead with 65% share and French private sector transport group Keolis with 35% share.Having merged Thameslink, Southern, Great Northern and Gatwick Express it is the largest rail franchise in the UK carrying around a third of all passengers.It is a management contract where the government takes all the financial risk not the company.

6. In March 2016GTR/Southern wrote to ASLEF notifying us of their intention to introduce DOO 12car operation on the Gatwick Express on April 9. We informed both the company and our branches and representatives that there was no agreement between the company and the union for this development nor had establishedprocedures been adhered to. Pursuant to this we n otified our branches and representatives of our intention to ballot for industrial action.

7. A train driver booked on for duty on April 9 and refused to drive the new Class 387 DOO train in the light of information received from the union. Following this, the company claimed ASLEF induced and instructed our members to breach their contracts and instructed the union to inform our members that they were contractually obliged to operate these new trains. ASLEF did not believe that our members were contractually obliged to operate these 12 car DOO trains and when we did not instruct our members to this effect the company sought an injunction against us.

8. On 22 April the Court found in favour of GTR and granted an injunction against ASLEF.The Court regarded the union’s communication of our understanding of agreements to our members as inducement of our members. Following this the union was required to notify our members that they were expected to drive 12 car DOO trains on the Gatwick Express. The Court did acknowledge the union’s right to campaign in the ballot for industrial action.

9. On 23rd May the result of our ballot for industrial action was announced with a turnout of 82.2% with 84.4% prepared to take part in a strike and 82.2% prepared to take part in action short of a strike.

10. The company then sought a further injunction to challenge the validity of the ballot on the grounds that it relied upon the union’s alleged inducement of its members. The Court granted this injunction on June 2 blocking any attempt by the union to take any industrial action.

11. In addition the Court instructed the General Secretary, Assistant General Secretary, Executive Committee and all representatives to submit their electronic devices to be searched for evidence of inducement of members.

12. It emerged in May that the DfT agreed a remedial plan with GTR in February following the company’s breach of contractual obligations regarding cancellations. This was technically a default which should have seen the company stripped of the contract although force majeure may apply.

13. At present significant issues remain outstanding including the introduction of anemergency timetable which ASLEF has not agreed to.

14. We regret the government’s failure to take responsibility for the disruption on GTR/Southern and to be honest about their policy. The government has specified the provisions of the GTR franchise agreement including a commitment to extend drive only operation and it is their decision to require the franchisee to deliver those specific provisions.

15. We believe that the government’s policy on driver only operation will lead to problems on other franchises. It should be noted that provisions exist in the franchise agreements for Northern Rail and ScotRail to introduce and extend driver only operation respectively. In addition page 67 of the recently published ITT for South West Trains states that ‘any new-build rolling stock must be fitted with the equipment necessary to enable the trains to be operated in Driver Only Operation (DOO) in Passenger mode.’

16. To conclude, were state our belief that the push for further DOO across the rail network is being covertly driven by the government through the provisions of the franchise agreements the train companies are being required to implement without thought or concern for passengers, employees or wider safety.

Mick Whelan

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