Feb 2006 - Network Rail switches on Paddington death signal

01 June 2013

Late last month the union discovered that the signal at the root of the terrible Paddington crash – which cost 31 people their lives and left dozens seriously injured – is to be brought back into service.

Note that word: discovered.

ASLEF was not consulted. Our drivers' advice was not sought. Their professional knowledge was not called upon. Our experience was not deemed worthy of reference. Decisions had already been taken. Management had made up its mind.

Two issues arise from this. Firstly, the specific issue of SN109 at Ladbroke Grove, and secondly the important issue of the place of the union in the so-called 'partnership' that is supposed to be the basis of the 'new' industrial relations.

Let me deal with Paddington first.

ASLEF had been conscious of the potential danger of SN109 for years. Our members knew it was difficult to see. Various ASLEF members had complained about the light, which had been passed at red on eight occasions in the previous seven years. We knew it was a danger.

Did management agree with our assessment? We will never know.

Perhaps it did, and maybe it didn't. One glaring fact remains, however: and that is that management did nothing about it.

Given these facts, who would you trust to say when or how the signal should be re-commissioned? We knew it was unsafe before the crash. We are therefore the obvious people to ask how to ensure its safety in the future.

This did not happen.

Network Rail instead consulted management: the very people whose inactivity played at least some part in causing the tragedy. This is not simply the union complaining about being ignored. It is ASLEF objecting to a failure to consult on a vital issue on which we have inside knowledge, vast experience and very real self-interest.

But the re-commissioning also points out the reality of modern day industrial relations. There is much talk of 'partnership' and 'stakeholders': but practically, as this case shows, these are empty words.

If managers are not even prepared to consult the union on an issue as vital as the safety of its members, they are not willing to consult on anything - unless we insist that they do so.

So that's exactly what we will do.

This is not posturing or puffing out the union chest. It is a vital part of civilized industrial relations.

ASLEF insists on its right to be consulted on issues that directly affect our members. It is not a privilege or a favour - and it is definitely not negotiable.

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