Unions call for government action to halt damaging rail cuts

28 January 2009

UNIONS representing more than 100,000 rail workers have urged the government to use its financial control over the industry to impose a moratorium on cuts in jobs, services and infrastructure maintenance and renewal.


In a letter to transport secretary Geoff Hoon RMT, TSSA and ASLEF also call for a freeze on dividends, with profits instead invested to protect services and jobs, and urge the government to run the industry in a way that helps the economy to weather the recession (full text below).


“Britain’s railways are a core industry that is too valuable to the economy and the environment to allow it to be vandalised for selfish short-term interests,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.


“The government has pledged to fight the recession with investment in public projects, and it should not allow itself to be used to subsidise redundancies in a key service whose purse strings it controls,” Bob Crow said.


Gerry Doherty, leader of the TSSA, said: “Passengers paid through the nose to ensure record profits for the rail companies during the boom. Now they want passengers and staff to pay for the bust with worse services and fewer jobs.”


ASLEF general secretary Keith Norman said: “Network Rail’s proposal to impose huge cuts in track renewals and maintenance threatens to jeopardise the safety of the rail network.


“To play with passenger safety in such a way is nothing short of blackmail, but the government has the power to stop these cuts and it should do so,” Keith Norman said.

 

 

Note to editors: The full text of the letter follows

 

For further information contact Derek Kotz on 020 7529 8803 or 07939 595 092

Tom Condon at TSSA on 020 7529 8055 or 07894 390 480 James McGowan at ASLEF on 020 7317 8625 or 07932 749095

 

Letter to Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon


27th January 2009

 

Dear Geoff,


Rail and the recession


When we met last November together with the TUC we raised our concerns about the impact of the economic downturn on the rail industry and we welcomed your agreement to meet again to discuss these concerns.


Since then the downturn has rapidly accelerated and in response the Government has taken a number of initiatives to seek to mitigate the effects of the recession and protect employment, including the recent jobs summit and the announcement of the creation of 100, 000 new jobs through such measures as new infrastructure projects.


It is welcome that the Government is seeking to be proactive in this way and these various initiatives will of course involve billions of pounds of tax-payers money and unprecedented state intervention.


Against this background it is therefore astonishing that the rail industry, which is heavily dependent on tax payer’s subsidy and based on a number of contractual relationships with Government, is being allowed to announce widespread jobs losses and are making strategic decisions which will result in further job losses. It appears that in effect the Government is subsiding redundancies in almost every sector of the rail industry.


We have clear indications, for example, that Network Rail are managing their renewals contracts, including track and over head line renewals, in such a way that essential work is being deferred to a later date to achieve short term efficiency savings. The scale of these reductions are significant and we have been advised that on average there will be a twenty eight per cent reduction in renewals work. The result is that not only will contractors be laying off skilled staff because of the way Network Rail is choosing to manage its work, but essential upgrades are being delayed which will adversely impact on the provision of services to passengers.


Network Rail admits in their own 2009-10 business plan that a “huge reduction in track renewals expenditure” will have a “major impact on the supply chain” with “20% - 30% less heavy materials” resulting in “supply chain redundancies”. We believe the decision will have a knock on effect on the rail freight industry and in addition a whole range of other industries such as Quarrying and Steel.


Network Rail’s actions are making a mockery of the Government’s stated intention to bring forward infrastructure projects to boost employment. Network Rail is responsible to the Government and dependent on Government subsidy, yet its directors are creating a climate which will result in a hemorrhaging of jobs from the rail industry.


It is also vital to draw your attention to the fact that again in the name of efficiency savings Network Rail are cutting the frequency of track inspections and routine signals maintenance. We are now deeply concerned that combined with the reduction in renewals work the cumulative effect will be to significantly raise safety risks to passengers and workers. We fear conditions are being created which could lead to another Hatfield, Potters Bar or Grayrigg.


Similarly with rail passenger services, companies which rely directly on Government subsidy are announcing huge job losses. In the last two months alone the train operating companies have announced almost 2000 jobs will go, allegedly as a result of a slowdown in passenger growth. The announcement of these job losses are even more galling when we know the “big five” transport groups have recently presided over huge fare hikes and enjoyed dividend increases of between ten and thirty three percent.

Again we would question why a part of the railway which is so heavily reliant on taxpayer support and has made substantial profits is being allowed to throw thousands on the dole and cock a snook at the Government’s efforts to tackle the effects of the economic downturn. These redundancies will of course also adversely impact on the safety and security of passengers and the quality of service they receive. Reports that the train companies are now also seeking your permission to cut services and shorten trains, whilst at the same time demanding even more tax payer subsidy, demonstrates that they have no regard whatsoever for the wider public interest.

You will also know the rail freight industry has and continues to enjoy the benefit of considerable indirect government subsidy and track access concessions to encourage freight on rail to assist in the battle to reduce carbon emissions. It must surely then be completely unacceptable for the UK largest rail freight company, DB Schenker Rail, owned by German State railways, to announce the loss of over 500 skilled jobs. This again not only flies in the face of the Government’s aim to protect jobs but also raises serious concerns that the United Kingdom Government's rail freight policy is being undermined by overseas and commercial interests.

The economic crisis demands concerted and coordinated action to protect jobs and services yet the main components of our fragmented railway industry which have benefitted from over a decade of massive state subsidy, rising passenger numbers and profits are now making decisions which will put thousands on the dole, undermine services and safety and squander tax payer’s money.

The rail industry depends on Government subsidy and we believe you should use the control this gives the Government to seek an industry wide moratorium on cuts in jobs and services, a freeze in dividends with all profits instead invested to protect services and jobs and the development of an industry wide strategy to ensure that our railways can be managed in a way which mitigates, against rather than exacerbates the effects of the economic downturn.


We would be grateful for an urgent meeting with you to discuss our concerns.

 

Yours sincerely

 

 

Bob Crow - RMT General Secretary

Gerry Doherty - TSSA General Secretary

Keith Norman - ASLEF General Secretary

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