The State of Freight

24 July 2019









NIGEL GIBSON, District 5 Organiser, and lead officer for Freightliner Heavy Haul, Freightliner Intermodal, and GB Railfreight, reflects on a rail sector red in tooth and claw.


More and more we are having to deal with the effects of freight contracts being awarded by the customer from one employer to another. This has very real consequences for our members.


Under TUPE regulations if members are part of an organised group of workers assigned to a contract there is the potential that members will have to move with that work and choosing not to move can leave you, potentially, without a job. Taking your terms & conditions is a key part of TUPE legislation which can create difficulties for employers and, in turn, put pressure on employees to accept the new employer’s terms.


As a trade union, we are dealing with this difficult situation day by day. We are now working together as lead negotiators with the ASLEF executive committee, which creates a far more cohesive approach.


When we are dealing with these transfers, we have a duty to protect members transferring to a new employer but also to protect those who remain with the existing employer. Allowing employers to pick and choose, dependent on how the business model or recruitment strategy is developing, will only lead to more problems further down the line.


Unfortunately, pensions are not covered by TUPE and the freight companies are becoming renowned for being poor providers with sections either closed or contributions escalating disproportionately. There is little we can do in this context.


Another area which members have found difficult is when the current employer offers schemes which allow employees to purchase or lease cars. These arrangements cease when a TUPE transfer takes place and, in some circumstances, members have been told to return a car to the leasing company and make substantial penalty payments prior to transfer. We would urge you to read the small print and put it into context with your employment before signing up.


Several freight operators have recently suggested that there should be a choice for the employee when TUPE applies; let us be clear, this is not because of a desire to support our members but because of their shortfall in resources. Would they really be willing for members to remain with promises of jam tomorrow if they had a surplus of driver resources? We know the answer to that from experience…


On a positive note, we are gaining levels of membership density in the freight sector that we have not seen for a number of years, a reflection not only of the good work our reps are doing throughout the rail freight industry, but a recognition of the need for trade unions to defend workers' rights and conditions.

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