Rail union calls for end to service cuts by private operators

Bob Crow makes a good case for public ownership if the privateers start making swingeing cuts, will Hoon listen? (A rhetorical question, obviously!)

Private operators must be told ‘no rail service cuts’, says RMT

Publication Date: January 19 2009

PRIVATE TRAIN operators that have made hundreds of millions in profits at the public’s expense must not be allowed to cut services and jobs simply to keep their profits up, Britain’s biggest rail union says today.

RMT has urged Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon to give a resounding ‘no’ to expected attempts by the ‘big five’ rail operators tomorrow to win permission to operate fewer services than specified in their franchise agreements.

The union points out that rising revenues and rail profits made by the big five have fuelled rises in group dividends of between ten and 33 per cent (see attached analysis).

“If ever there was a case of greedy privateers wanting to have their cake and eat it this is it,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said.

“The big five monopoly operators have been minting it at the public’s expense for more than a decade, handing over tens of millions of pounds in dividends to shareholders on the back of public subsidy, overcrowding and massive fares hikes

“Revenues, profits and dividends have been rising steadily, but at the first hint of a slowdown they want to slash services and sack staff when that is the reverse of what the economy and environment need.

“We already have operators threatening to sack staff and undermine the quality of service they offer by removing catering facilities and other front-line and service staff, and RMT will resist them with all the means at our disposal.

“Now we have the same privateers seeking to add to the downward spiral, and it is quite clear that they care nothing about the health of the economy, the environment or the services they are supposed to provide and everything about their shareholders’ bank accounts.

“We need a growing rail network that encourages people to travel by train through attractive fares, not least in these hard economic times

“If these parasites aren’t willing to run the level of services specified in their franchises they should hand back the keys and allow them to be run in the public sector where they belong,” Bob Crow said.


Note to editors: Attached is an analysis of the big five’s profits and fare increases

Mayor’s unfair fares

From Progressive London:

Boris Johnson’s New Year hangover for the capital- “Mayor hits Londoners in the pocket with fares rise”

Thursday, 01 January 2009 14:18

Tomorrow’s fare increase in London, which will see an above-inflation increase of six per cent overall and the price of a single bus journey on Oyster go up by eleven per cent – has provoked strong criticism from a cross party group. “At a time of financial crisis the Mayor should be helping Londoners by holding down fares and investing in key public services like transport – he is doing the opposite, hitting ordinary Londoners in the pocket,” said MP Jon Cruddas, former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, Assembly members Len Duvall, Jenny Jones, Darren Johnson, and Val Shawcross, and Steve Hart – regional secretary of transport union Unite, in a joint statement.

They called for the fare increase to be reversed and criticised the loss of millions of pounds of income for Transport for London since Boris Johnson became mayor which could have been used to avoid the painful rise.

In their statement the cross-party group said:

“The Mayor of London plans to raise fares by six per cent, with some increasing far more: the price of a single bus journey on Oyster will go up by 11 per cent, to £1.

“Yet at the same time the Mayor has cancelled investment to improve the city’s transport system, and is throwing away millions of pounds by cancelling measures like the planned £25-a-day charge on the worst-polluting cars, like Chelsea Tractors, in central London and taking one of the richest parts of London, Kensington and Chelsea, out of the Congestion Charging Zone.

“At a time of financial crisis the Mayor should be helping Londoners by holding down fares and investing in key public services like transport: he is doing the opposite, hitting ordinary Londoners in the pocket.

“We demand that this January’s above-inflation fare increase be cancelled.”

Road pricing rejected in Manchester referendum

Again, the joys of direct democracy.

Despite attempts to bribe Mancunians into adopting an englarged version of London’s congestion charge, as the first step in making drivers pay to use roads across the country, the promise of hundreds of millions of pounds of investment could not win a majority.

A large majority of Greater Manchester’s electors voted against the regressive scheme, a pet project of New Labour which was unwisely supported by the Green Party because of the investment in public transport.

The Guardian reports:

In a referendum, the proposal was defeated by a majority of 4 to 1, meaning there is now little chance of a pay-as-you-drive scheme being introduced for at least a decade. Sir Neil McIntosh, the returning officer, said 1.03m votes were received – a response rate of 53.2%.

Of those, 79% were against.

Voters were unimpressed by the promise of £1.5bn of government money for public transport, and 10,000 extra jobs created by the construction of tram lines and improved buses and trains. Instead, the public appeared to regard it as an extra tax for motorists, which would cost individuals up to £1,200 a year.

The result is an embarrassment to the government, which created a £2bn fund dedicated to supporting local charging schemes. The fund is likely to be reallocated to other projects or become a victim of budget cuts.

The city’s yes campaign may not have been helped by the decision of Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, to abolish the western extension of the capital’s charging zone. It is expected that other cities that had been considering schemes, including Cambridge, Bristol and Leeds, will abandon their plans.

Labour politicians in Manchester had worked closely with ministers at the Department for Transport to try to convince voters. A vitriolic campaign was fought between the yes and no camps.

Had it gone ahead, the charge would have been introduced in 2013, by which time 80% of the public transport improvements would have been completed. There would also have been discounts for the low-paid and exemptions for parts of the city that had to wait longer for improvements.

Motorists would have paid to cross two charging rings during the morning and evening rush hours. The outer ring roughly followed the orbital M60, while the inner ring surrounded the city centre.

Graham Stringer, MP for Manchester Blackley, who opposed the charge, said: “I am delighted with the result. It’s a brave politician that goes forward with such a scheme, unless it is an extraordinarily good scheme that virtually everybody benefits from.”

He said the result showed there was hostility to road charging: “You have to come up with an extremely good scheme whereby you reduce other road taxes if you ever want road pricing by consent in this country.”

Stringer said it was a pity that three years had been wasted on the “ill thought out” scheme. He said officials must now go back to the government to talk about how they can invest in trams, trains and buses for Greater Manchester.

For more information, check out the Campaign for Free Public Transport website.

Boris to butcher buses – privatisation planned

Crikey! Privatisation! Another disaster from Boris…

From Progressive London, the bad news:

Mayor to privatise bus company
on Wednesday, 10 December 2008 17:10

Boris Johnson continued the right wing direction of his mayoralty today with the announcement that the last-remaining public-sector bus company – East Thames Buses – will be privatised, leading to condemnation by transport unions.
Unite’s Pete Kavanagh said today: “We are living through a period when privatisation and free market economics are clearly floundering. Privatisation has failed the UK’s travelling public.”
In a statement the TSSA transport union argued that “Boris is showing his true colours by selling off a successful publicly owned company to his chums in the City.” 
Assistant General Secretary Manuel Cortes said: “Here we have a high performing publicly owned company being sold off just to meet the Mayor’s ideological prejudices. This is not the time to be rewarding the City when Londoners are suffering from the economic downturn.”
TSSA reports that TfL has announced a six month feasibility study into the sell off of the bus company.

In addition to the issue of pensions, the trade unions are also concerned that the sell-off will reduce the effectiveness of TfL’s ability to assess and monitor the other twenty operators that control London’s bus network. Unite said that by selling off East Thames Buses TfL will lose a useful yardstick with which to measure the effectiveness of London’s other bus operators.

Solid strike by London bus workers

From the TGWU section of Unite:

‘First’ London bus workers’ strike is solid
29 Aug 2008

Unite, Britain’s biggest union, says that today’s 24 hour strike at First Capital East Buses and First Centrewest Buses has remained solid.

The union is warning that FirstGroup faces further disruption unless it returns to the negotiating table with an offer which recognises the hard work of these bus workers and the rising costs of living in London.

Unite regional officer, Peter Kavanagh, said: “This strike has been solid. It’s a clear indication of our members’ determination to get a fair deal. It’s time for FirstGroup to return to the negotiating table with an offer that our members deserve. FirstGroup is extremely profitable – it’s only right that these workers should get a fair share of the rewards.”

A further 48 hour strike is planned beginning Friday 12th September.

Strike ballots are now taking place in most other London bus companies in disputes over pay. The union submitted a London wide claim to all bus operators in March of this year to challenge the current system whereby drivers (and other grades) performing identical jobs within the TfL regulated industry, receive hugely varying pay and conditions. In many cases the pay disparity for drivers working for different operators can be as much as £6,000 a year.

When employers won’t negotiate

Planned strikes at BAA this weekend have been called off when Swissport, a division of Grupo Ferrovial which owns BAA, agreed to enter negotiations with the union. Sadly, the employers of baggage handlers have refused to go to ACAS to talk with the workers’ representatives and are instead trying to break the strike.

In 2005 Gate Gourmet sacked 670 workers and replaced them with non-union workers based overseas, who were paid less and had worse conditions. The sacked workers, mostly Asian women, were informed of their being sacked by a megaphone in the car park at Heathrow.

A Grunwick style struggle ensued, starting with immediate wildcat action from baggage handlers. Sadly, the TGWU failed to challenge the Thatcherite anti-union laws and condemned this act of solidarity.

Airfield Services is owned by Gate Aviation.

From The News Line:

GATE GOURMET TACTICS! – GMB accuses Airfield Services
The GMB trade union yesterday accused Stansted security contractor Airfield Services of Gate Gourmet tactics.

It said that Airfield Services was showing gross irresponsibility in refusing to accept an invitation to ACAS to avoid disruption to the travelling public and warned a Gate Gourmet-style lock-out situation is brewing.

Airfield Services on Thursday night refused an invitation from GMB and airports owner BAA to go to ACAS to seek a resolution to the pay dispute that has given rise to a strike on Monday 25th August 2008 at Stansted Airport.

33 GMB members who operate sophisticated security scanning equipment to check luggage going in to the holds of planes gave notice a week ago of strike action in protest at a pay offer of 1.5%.

Since then there have been no direct talks between the company and the union.

Airfield Services refusal to go to ACAS means strike action on Monday is now inevitable, the GMB added.

The union said: ‘The consequence is likely to be disruption to the travelling public using Stansted Airport and an increased security risk to everybody in the airport and on planes leaving the airport due to the lack of qualified and trained luggage scanners.’

GMB General Secretary Paul Kenny said: ‘It is an act of gross irresponsibility that a contractor engaged in operating an airport is refusing an offer of conciliation to resolve a long standing pay dispute.

‘Going to ACAS should be a condition of holding a BAA contract. Even at this late stage BAA should insist that Airfield Services go to ACAS or be sacked as the contractor.

‘Airfield Services is part of the same group as Gate Gourmet which caused severe disruption at Heathrow Airport a few years ago with their macho industrial relations style.

‘We are seeing the same posturing in this dispute which could be resolved by an inflation-level award that would add a mere £300 per week to the company wage bill.

‘The company claim that they cannot afford this amount is not credible since they are owned by 40 major financial institutions worth billions.

‘Total responsibility for disruption and the additional risk to the travelling public and those on planes leaving the airport due to the lack of qualified and trained luggage scanners lies at the door of Airfield Services.

‘GMB will insist that the company and BAA adhere to the law against strike breaking by using agency staff.

‘GMB is writing today to the law enforcement body, to BAA and to the agencies body to make sure they know what the law says and the penalties for breaking it.’

BAA: the solution is public ownership

Here’s a press release from the Campaign for Public Ownership:

Across the political spectrum there is widespread agreement that BAA-owned airports, with their long queues, lack of seats and tacky, shopping mall atmosphere, are a national disgrace.

But the solution is not to break up BAA’s monopoly and introduce ‘more competition’ as The Competition Commission recommends. The answer is to take BAA back into public ownership, and for the company to be run as a not-for-profit enterprise.

Britain is the only country in Europe that has been foolish enough to privatise its major international airports. It is no coincidence that Manchester Airport, which has not been privatised, regularly comes out highest in surveys of customer satisfaction was voted Britain’s Best Regional Airport in 2007.

Sir Terence Conran, who designed Terminal One at Heathrow and the North Terminal in the 1960s, has contrasted the brief he received from the owners of the airports back then – the British state – with the instructions Lord (Richard) Rogers, the architect of Terminal 5, got from BAA.

Conran was told to put in as many seats as possible, with the priority being to make passengers ‘relax and feel at ease’. At Terminal One there were only three shops.

The privatised BAA told Rogers to put in as few seats as possible: there are only 700 seats for a terminal handling an average of 80,000 passengers. BAA wants people to pay to sit down at the terminal’s expensive cafes and restaurants – not sit down for free, eating their own sandwiches.

The approach perfectly illustrates the difference in ethos between a publicly-owned company, for whom profit is not the be all and end all, and a privatised one.

We can’t blame BAA for treating every square foot at Heathrow as a profit centre: it’s a private company which wants to maximise returns for its shareholders. But we can blame the politicians foolish enough to sell off BAA in the first place. Allowing other profit-hungry plcs to compete to run our airports would only mean more of the same. Even the Competition Commission acknowledge that the basic problem lies in BAA’s ‘ownership structure’.

It’s time to restore BAA to public ownership.