ASLEF Annual Assembly of Delegates

01 July 2005

ASLEF acts to end cheapskate training

ASLEF will be in dispute with train and freight operating companies who fail to sign up to a minimum driver training document delegates to ASLEF’s annual assembly of agreed today.

The decision came in a wide ranging debate after drivers from companies across the network reported problems with managers misusing ‘no blame’ incident reporting procedures for disciplinary purposes.

London Underground driver Bobby Clarke said managers were breaching the existing safety reporting policy to regrade and downgrade drivers. ‘The underground is an intensely pressurised driving environment’ he said. ‘We pass signals every 30 seconds. And dealing with communications problems in deep level tunnels he said that without functioning radios drivers were not prepared to run trains.

East Finchley and Golders Green delegate Colin Hicks called for support for a renewed health and safety charter and demanded that SPAD ( signals passed at danger0 policy be based on competency criteria rather than used as a disciplinary weapon.

And he reported ‘positive picket line feedback’ from the public during recent industrial action over safety on the underground.

ASLEF rail union leaders are to meet Network Rail boss John Arnitt over new technology that could avert danger on death trap level crossings.

Intervening in the safety debate acting general secretary Keith Norman said last autumn’s Ufton Nervet level crossing disaster could have been avoided.

‘It should never have happened because the technology, devised in south Wales and already operating in Hong Kong, exists, to prevent it’ he said.

‘It is a criminal tragedy that we don’t have it here. One of our members - driverStan Martin - and seven passengers would be alive if it were’ he said.

The technology had the capacity to scope the track ahead of a fast moving train, identify obstructions and using state-of-the art laser system bring high quality images into the drivers’ cab. It had an in train capability that could enable conditions on the train to be monitored he said.

But in its essentials train drivers were still operating with steam age cab technology.

Delegates commend anti war stance.

Tyne Yard driver Colin Thornhill led delegates in a warm welcome to Livingston MP Robin Cook. Backed by Chester delegate Richie Cash he commended the former foreign minister for his principled stand over the war. ‘An illegal war that should never have taken place’ he said. Robin Cook said he would press for an early exit strategy from Iraq.

Earlier the MP- who is a member of the ASLEF parliamentary group – told delegates he was keen to return to the debate on the Queen’s speech to vote for the Bill to establish a new offence of corporate manslaughter that would establish the principle that managers cannot walk away from personal responsibility.

A key task for the Labour government would be to take thousands more children out of poverty.

‘If all the children living in poverty were to hold hands, he said, the 800 mile chain would stretch from London to Glasgow and back again.’

Over two hundred thousand workers were paid below the minimum wage he said.

‘I would like to see the Inland Revenue prosecute just one guilty employer.’

‘Markets have their limits’ he said. ‘Some things were so important they could not be left to the market. They included the basic rights of access to health treatment and access to education.’

Pointing out that the current subsidy to privately owned train operators was three times higher than the subsidy paid to the nationalised British Railways he said it was odd that the government seemed committed to return the publicly owned South east trains to private ownership.

Delegates greeted his call to ‘gradually bring the rail industry back into public ownership.’

Brendan Barber calls for ‘real rail renaissance’

TUC leader Brendan Barber today called for a’ real rail renaissance’ with investment in a high speed north south rail link and Crossrail in the capital.

Condemning the transfer of rail safety to the Office of the Rail Regulator as ‘a profoundly backward step’ he said financial and safety regulatory functions should not be merged. ‘And neither should passenger and railway workers safety be separated he said.

Backing ASLEF’s safety charter he said that a fitting symbol of the union’s 125th anniversary year would be a law establishing a statutory limit on train drivers’ hours.

Labour’s second term had proved to be something of a disappointment he said but the third term was a time for delivery.

Calling for a new deal for the workplace Brendan barber said the country had achieved high levels of employment but needed high quality employment.

A new deal would include union rights, measures to combat long hours, the gender pay gap and other inequalities, a new pensions settlement including a restoration of the link with earnings.

The Public Private Partnership on the underground had, as ASLEF said, proved to be a disaster for the public and the public purse. 

Pledging strong support from the TUC for the battle to restore rail to public ownership he said privatisation had proved to be a’ a disaster’.

The case for change was compelling. Private railway companies had benefited from a £4billion subsidy with £1 billion in direct profit.

There was a crisis of procurement with train making in decline.

Welcoming the transfer of training responsibilities to the Rail Sector Skills Council he said employers in the rail industry had failed to provide adequate training and were poaching skilled staff from each other.

Northern Rail management warned

Assembly delegates were brought to their feet in a spontaneous burst of anger and resolve as executive committee president Alan Donnelly tore into the management at Northern Rail after reports that a newly qualified driver had been demoted on his first day on the job.

‘Kick one of us and you kick us all’ he said and warned the employer that their actions were ‘totally unacceptable to this union’ – the barely coded words that mean the whole strength of the union could be mobilised.

Leeds delegate Pauline Cawood, - a driver with Northern Rail - said she was ‘shocked, appalled and horrified’ at the employer’s action. 

Condemning it a ‘ blatant abuse and an attack on the whole union’ she said it was an attempt to cover up their own inadequacies.

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