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Better Rail: demanding fair conditions for us all

4 January 2013

On 29 November representatives from TOCs, freight and infrastructure companies, BTP, TfL, London Underground and Network Rail came together to discuss the common standards we want to see for workers across the rail industry.


Former TSSA organiser, now MP, Julie Hilling: "Keep on and on at your MPs."

Better Rail Convention

General secretary Manuel Cortes opened the convention with a message of thanks to all reps and members involved in Better Rail, but also a challenge to keep up our fight throughout the ‘Year of Horror’ in 2013: ‘Not only will we have one action a week every week in 2013, but, with your help, we will be hold over a dozen major events in our fight for a better railway.’

Creating and wining industry standards

As part of the Better Rail campaign we are fighting for ‘Better Jobs’ that enable staff to deliver a quality public service. To win better jobs, TSSA reps are developing a set up industry standards – things we think all rail workers should be entitled to, no matter where they work. As the government insist on cuts being made by franchise holders and new bidders, an easy option is for them to attack workers’ terms and conditions to an even greater degree than they have since privatisation.

What is an industry standard?

Our TSSA reps have been telling us they feel there should be standard terms and conditions for all rail workers around issues like the setting of hours of work, pay, rosters, overtime, annual leave, sick pay, travel facilities, union rights, recognition and facilities and more. Every time TSSA members go into collective bargaining we have an opportunity to move towards agreeing terms and conditions that work for everyone – but we also face threats from individual employers who are interested in cutting costs and increasing the profits of shareholders. If we all join together to fight for Better Jobs that meet our standards, then we are closer to building a better railway that’s a quality public service. By developing official standards for each issue, we help our company council reps to build a better railway through collective bargaining.

Each standard will include a statement of the principles behind the standard and then ways we can achieve them through bargaining and general company engagement throughout the year. At the Better Rail Convention we discussed two standards that are amongst the top issues raised by our reps: Job Security and Trade Union Rights. For each, we identified Gold (TSSA Standard), Silver and Bronze (minimum conditions) standards.

A Working Group was established to develop standards over 2013 in consultation with reps, branches and members of TSSA. If you want to have your say you can:
- conduct the Better Rail Workplace Survey in your workplace. The information gathered will help us develop the standards;
- send your thoughts to and we will make sure they are discussed at the next working group meeting.


Labour's Shadow Transport Secretary, Maria Eagle
Manjit Gill’s account of the convention:

It was a really brilliant event which brought together members from across the rail industry to work collectively towards building Better Rail Industry Standards. Manuel Cortes lifted spirits by talking about the great tide of optimism that almost everyone is now calling for some form of public ownership of the railways.

Maria Eagle MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, spoke about winning the hearts and minds of MPs over to the cause of public ownership. Labour are currently reviewing their policy for the next general election but she told us, ‘the door is open for the idea of public ownership – we need your views to shape Labour Policy. Go to our policy review website and tell us what you think.’

She encouraged us all to join campaign groups on the subject and spoke about the toxic waste on the railways. She wishes us to raise our voices and to put pressure on the backbenches so the message was coming through at all levels in the Labour Party. It is clear that we have a strong and devoted shadow minister who will fight tooth and nail for a better railway.

Julie Hilling MP – who until the last election was a TSSA official – spoke about the shambles of the West Coast franchise and the £186 million retained in the system by the East Coast being in public hands. She said members should be doing much more to engage with their MPs, telling us, ‘it’s not as simple as explaining to them once. You need to visit not just once, but continually, to keep it on their priority list’. No one had been to see her to talk about public ownership since her election in 2010 – many MPs need to feel pressure to support the end of privatisation.

The exercises we did in working groups further reinforced the huge differences between our companies. We must all work towards bringing everyone up to the Gold Standard. Assistant general secretary Steve Coe quantified the billions of unnecessary public spending lost due to the structure of the industry. I was shocked to discover the scale of the profits now leaving the country due to the various foreign-owned TOCs.

We were given full support by Matt Dykes of the TUC’s Action for Rail campaign and heard about the vital piece of the jigsaw that is the work of Rob Jenks and TSSA’s Community Organising team. We must be prepared to involve as many people from as diverse a set of organisations as possible to build the links and support networks that will help us win.

The battle is on to expose the huge waste due to the fragmentation of the railways and to deal with the growing threat to the 600 ticket offices earmarked for closure by McNulty. It will be fantastic to be involved in some of the 13 major actions planned next year. A visit by the TSSA Ghost Train will definitely be the icing on the cake! Better Rail here we come!

Better Rail Industry Standards

Early examples of the kinds of standards we want to develop include:

Trade Union Rights

The principle behind our standard is that all members and potential members should feel free to fully exercise their rights to belong to and participate in their union. We can achieve this through agreements with management that include access to new staff inductions, statements of their support for employees to join the TSSA and formulating ways in which employers can ensure there is no interference when union reps are seeking release to undertake their union duties.

Gold – our TSSA standard
Trade union access agreement with employer. Allowing recruitment and sharing of union information with all employees

Silver – medium term goals

Agreement to have union reps attend at new staff inductions and ability to meet new starters

Bronze – minimum standard
Adequate release time for reps to conduct union business and training.

Job Security

The principle behind our standard is that members should be able to expect permanent, skilled jobs, with career opportunities and flexible working. We can achieve this through many mechanisms, including fighting for opportunities to develop and learn, agreements for no compulsory redundancies and ensuring there are agreed limits on the use of short hours, casual and agency work arrangements. Reps at the convention spent time debating what should be our Gold standard for Job Security.


What members have been saying about the Better Rail Convention

We had very positive and productive sessions which saw great ideas about industry standards. It was great to see a working group established to expand on the ideas.
Michele Croft, TSSA workplace rep and Future TSSA

The Convention was good as it had all the divisions of TSSA that work on rail attending. Ideas and issues were raised, and some resolved. It was really good for team building and networking.
Karon Smith, workplace rep,
British Transport Police

31 delegates, representing 22 different employers, five speakers, all seeking one industry standard for a Better Rail. Together we will achieve so much more!
Michael Litchfield, Brighton Branch chair

Ghost Train touring the UK to fight horror fares and station staff cuts


The new year marks the start of our Year of Horror 2013! To highlight the ghostly trains created by unaffordable fares and ghost stations caused by cuts to station staff, our TSSA Ghost Train is going to tour stations across Britain, spreading the message to passengers and community groups about the benefits of public ownership of rail.

The Ghost Train was launched at the TUC march on October 20 where it generated a fabulous reception from other marchers and the general public. Recently we took the Ghost Train to visit c2c stations in Essex and to the London Transport Museum where it again received very positive attention and local media coverage.

Want the Ghost Train to visit your station? Request a stop via

The Ghost Train is sponsored by Lush Cosmetics who support activism for public transport and the environment.

Better Rail Workplace Survey

Responses to our survey are coming in bundles from reps who have been talking with their workmates each day, helping them complete the surveys. So far, our results are showing a mix of everyday problems and bigger industry-wide issues. These include:

workplace issues

  • staffing levels
  • training for staff
  • health and safety, security –pay
  • kitchen facilities

How to make a better railway?

  • oppose threat of cuts to staff
  • public ownership of the railways – stop ‘automation’ of the railways – simplify fares
  • invest in infrastructure

If you would like to do the survey in your workplace, sign up for a survey pack on


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