POSSIBLE industrial action over the loss of railway jobs appears to have been averted, following the publication of an Enabling Framework Agreement signed by the unions, with the agreement of train operators and Network Rail.
Staff numbers are set to fall and there is to be a recruitment freeze unless the jobs involved are vital, while the government has warned that it is unable to fund any of the outstanding pay reviews for 2020 and 2021 with the exception of an increase of £250 a year for the lowest paid workers, who earn less than £24,000 annually. The document comments: ‘The employers and DfT regard such a financial saving as a contribution to reducing the overall staffing costs of the railway.’
This document, produced by the new Rail Industry Recovery Group, acknowledges that the number of passenger trains in the May timetable is about a sixth lower than it was in December, although it is is designed to be adjustable in response to ‘variable’ passenger demand.
As the industry also needs to reduce its costs and reductions in train service levels are set to affect the number of staff needed, the agreement says: ‘We will aim to seek volunteers who are interested in applying to leave the industry in the first instance. We shall initially offer a voluntary leaver’s scheme inviting applications from employees who are directly affected by the changes.’
Along with this there will be a recruitment freeze, unless the job involved is ‘essential or critical’, plus a retraining programme which will offer employees the chance to learn new skills.
The costs of cleaning and catering contracts are also coming under the spotlight, and there is a possibility that such contracts could be brought back in house, which it is recognised ‘could require new pay structures and work design’.
Other changes on the horizon include updated working arrangements, a review of future pay discussions, the establishment of a ’seven-day railway’ to cater for the expected growth in leisure travel, a rethink of rostering arrangements and updates of ‘policies and procedural agreements to ensure these are fit for purpose and aligned with modern working principles’.
The document concludes: ‘Everyone is aware of the serious situation we face over the next few years. It will be a difficult time for all parties involved as there are immediate financial issues to work through, as well as necessary changes to be made. This will bring pressure and in such a situation people can react in different ways. However, we all have a responsibility to respect each other, acknowledge we will have different points of view, support each other and wherever possible, keep channels of communication open.’
First Rail managing director Steve Montgomery, who chairs the Rail Delivery Group, said: ‘The railway faces unprecedented challenges. The Covid-19 pandemic has led to the biggest drop in passenger numbers since records began, with government providing hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer funding every month to keep train services running.
‘To build back a railway which is sustainable in the long-term and addresses changing passenger needs, we must change the way we work and not take more than our fair share from the public purse. Britain’s railway and rail workers have played a critical role during the pandemic and together with the rest of the country, we all thank them for their contribution. Like any industry hit by the pandemic we face tough choices. We have to adapt and we want to retain as many jobs as we can.’
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘RMT will participate in the industry-wide processes and discussions as we have to be there to defend the interest of our members. We don’t accept the notion that the future of the railways should be based on job cuts and attacks on safety, pay, conditions and pensions.
‘In participating in these discussions RMT has ensured that there will still be scope to ensure security of employment measures whilst also pursuing pay awards, coupled with a framework that allows the union to pursue long standing objectives such as a reduction in the working week, travel facilities for all rail workers and bringing catering and cleaning work in-house.’