Race to the bottom with freight on rail

01 November 2016

We have long spoken about the effects of government indecision (and poor decisions) about rail freight; the failures to protect the supply chain, the taxing of coal, the lack of a coherent policy on steel and the future of Britain’s manufacturing base. Freight has become the poor relation of the proclaimed privatised success that equates footfall (which is really population growth) as the determining factor in not having an integrated transport or industrial strategy. In every company in the sector there is a tale of woe. An unparalleled race to the bottom, and increased casualisation, mean margins and contracts in many traditional areas are now unviable.

This culminated in news that impacts on men and women the length and breadth of the country – the mess that is DB Cargo has issued redundancy notice to all its drivers. Its intention, apparently, is to shed 391 men and women and bring back the others on significantly worse terms and conditions. Our officers and reps are in talks and we look forward to the Transport Minister condemning this process and all stakeholders – including Network Rail and the TOCs – questioning the future viability of the core infrastructure, never mind much vaunted improvement schemes. Our thoughts are with all those, in all grades, hit by this decision, their families and futures. We shall, as we always do, use every tool at our disposal to challenge and mitigate the proposal and the damage this will do to our whole industry.

The house of cards that was, and is, privatised freight was always fragile; giving away the assets required to maintain the infrastructure, then setting up government subsidised companies to offer false competition in a captive market, was always dangerous. Placing the burden of maintenance at the whim of overtime, around core traffic flows, that impact on other sectors dependant on that infrastructure, in a penalty-driven world, was never likely to work. False competition thrives and is sold off as a worldwide recession hits. Streamlining, redundancy, and decreased opportunity compounded with government decisions on coal and steel – you have real problems.

There are times when you do not want to be right but when you have a foreign operator, whose home company is having financial issues, we should expect these problems. That’s why we are calling on our government to support our industry and work to protect the jobs and contracts that exist.

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