by Richie Venton, SSP national workplace organiser
The courageous determination of ScotRail guards, who sacrificed 13 days’ pay by striking for public safety, has won a clear victory in a deal which will be considered by the national executives of both the RMT and ASLEF unions tomorrow (20th September).
After prolonged talks with ScotRail Abellio bosses – latterly involving combined negotiating teams from both unions – the employers have massively retreated from their original plans to extend Driver Only Operated (DOO) trains across the Central Belt and beyond.
The deal reached retains the fundamental role of the safety-critical guards. It comes nowhere near the bosses’ and government’s original plans to dump core safety procedures – door operations and train dispatches – on the driver. It is a substantial victory for strike action by RMT members.
ABELLIO BOSSES’ ORIGINAL PLANS
The Abellio bosses, driven by the franchise issued to them by the SNP government in October 2014, had hoped to get rid of the safety critical guards/conductors – and replace them with lower-paid, lesser-trained Ticket Examiners, who in at least 20% of cases are absent from DOO trains due to chronic staffing shortages.
It was a case of cutting costs in the medium term, and to hell with the safety consequences.
Contrary to any slick spin from Abellio bosses over the next 24 hours, we need to recall how they bullied staff; tried to bypass the union by use of social media and letters to guards’ homes; refused to even meet the unions for weeks on end, let alone enter meaningful negotiations; conscripted management scabs to run trains at public risk; deployed fearful agency staff to hand out their propaganda; used a compliant capitalist media to belittle the role of guards and silence the workers’ case from being heard and understood by the travelling public; threatened to use Westminster Tory anti-union laws against the RMT, to bludgeon their members into submission; and enjoyed the encouragement of the SNP government. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also belittled the skilled guards’ role, and the cause of the strikers, by echoing Abellio’s contemptuous remarks about it being “all about who presses a button”.
THEY UNDERESTIMATED THE GUARDS!
The Abellio bosses – and indeed the Scottish government who spurned the chance to take our railways back into public ownership, and instead actively encouraged the Dutch state-owned franchise-holders to implement DOO – severely underestimated the passion for safety and principled courage of RMT members.
Strike action has forced through a deal that is overwhelmingly a success story for the solidarity of workers taking action.
It will guarantee a guard on every one of the new electrified trains (EMUs) planned for next year.
That guarantee will apply for the remainder of the Abellio franchise – and indeed beyond, with a pledge that it will be transferred over to any future franchise, through TUPE.
Furthermore – and critically – none of these trains will be allowed to move without a guard on board, which prevents the government or ScotRail bosses using weasel words about ‘a second crew member being scheduled’ – but then not actually on board, as happens with at least one in five DOO trains right now, where the train moves whilst being literally driver only, without a Ticket Examiner on duty.
DOOR OPERATIONS & TRAIN DISPATCH
The one area of concession by the unions is on operation of the train doors, but even on that the Abellio bosses have failed to fully get their way. They had intended that the driver would not only face the onerous task of driving, but would also be responsible for opening and shutting the doors, thereby making drivers in charge of train dispatches from stations, with all the huge risks to passengers that we’ve explained in previous articles and videos.
But in the deal now being recommended by both the RMT and ASLEF negotiators, the driver will open the doors and the conductor/guard will close the train door, thereby retaining their vital role in checking for passengers’ safety at the Passenger Train Interface (PTI).
Compared with the current system that is a step backwards. It adds pressure to the driver; it increases the risk of trains stopping short on platforms (especially with the new, longer, eight carriage EMU trains) without the driver spotting the problem, which potentially could mean passengers spilling out onto the track.
But with agreement that the guard will dispatch the train after safety checks at the station, and door technology that will help them correct mistakes by the driver on door controls, the most fundamental demands of the RMT strikers have been granted. That’s a far cry from the original aims of the profit-driven Abellio bosses and Scottish government, to remove all control of the doors from the guards.
FULL CREDIT TO THE STRIKERS
This prolonged battle has shown the willingness of workers to take action if given a lead by their unions. It is to the eternal credit of those union activists who refused to just roll over and accept the DOO plans at the very start of the process. Their refusal to comply, or to just ‘see how it goes’, has been vindicated by the outcome. Above all, every one of the strikers who was prepared to put public safety top of the agenda, willing to lose wages in order to ‘Keep the Guard’, deserves the admiration and applause of every trade unionist, every passenger, every self-respecting worker.
NOW DEMAND A GUARD ON EVERY TRAIN!
This successful workers’ struggle should now be the launchpad for the ongoing campaign to make trains safe; to win back a guard on every train that was converted to a DOO train, in most cases over 30 years ago. To win investment in safe, comfortable, fully staffed stations. To halt the cuts to infrastructure jobs and ticket offices. And to further the struggle for democratic public ownership of the railways, so that safety is put before profit, passengers before shareholders, the millions before the millionaires.[x_video_embed type=”16:9″ no_container=”true”][/x_video_embed]
The Scottish Socialist Party is proud to have fought alongside these courageous fighters – and we will continue to do so in favour of a fundamental change in the type of society we live in.