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General Secretary: Change is coming

6 January 2014

Following the announcement that talks exploring the possibility of a merger with Unite would not be proceeding any further, our Executive Committee (EC) has started progressing a root and branch review of everything our union does.

The overriding priority is to maintain our union’s ability to continue to represent you both individually and collectively, to build our membership where possible and to campaign with you to influence external decision makers – be it employers or politicians – whilst also seeking to eliminate the operating deficit that a declining membership has created. You know, there is no doubt that painful and hard decisions lie ahead to safeguard our union’s future in the short to medium term.

Our union needs to be financially sound to be able to continue to protect your interests. That is why our EC has set up working parties which are considering ways of increasing income and also looking at how we can best uphold our union’s democracy whilst implementing cost reductions. A consultation document on how these issues might be taken forward will be circulated to branches on 20 January for comment by 14 March, with the final document being presented to our 2014 conference. Your branch will meet between the above dates to have their say – please go along to ensure your voice is heard!

Sadly, we have also had to announce proposals for a new staff structure that will lead to a significant reduction in headcount – we are looking for savings in staffing costs of well over a million pounds. We previously underwent a major reorganisation of our paid staff in 1998 and a subsequent one in 2005 that took account of our decreasing membership and the changed nature of the rail industry due to privatisation.

Since 2005, our membership has declined and there has also been a reduction in the number of core bargaining units in which our staff support the efforts of your elected workplace representatives. The number of train operators has decreased and with Network Rail taking work in-house, the number of contractors they engage has reduced. As our shift towards becoming an organising union continues apace, the workload associated with individual casework is now mostly undertaken by your elected workplace representatives. This means there is scope for a slight reduction in the number of front line staff that our union employs without having an adverse effect on the support that is available to you and your elected workplace representatives. Unfortunately, this also means having to make a greater headcount reduction elsewhere to balance our books.

It is worth noting that our EC remains firmly committed to a no compulsory redundancy policy for our employees. However, I am sure that you will understand what a difficult time this is for our staff. I know that they will continue to act in a professional manner throughout these incredibly trying circumstances. Frankly, they are an immense credit to our union.

The sad reality is that technological change continues to pose a major challenge to our union’s membership and financial base. London Underground’s recent announcement of the closure of all booking offices within their network by late 2015 is a good example of this – almost 1,000 jobs are under threat. At times like this, our union’s role is to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you to defend your interests and to campaign for changes that have positive effects on your livelihoods.

That is why we are launching a campaign with the London Labour Party to defend station staff within our Underground – backing our members’ efforts in regularly leafleting the public to gain their support against these dreadful cuts that will make our tube less safe. We also have similar initiatives through our Better Rail Campaign to defend jobs and services across the mainline railway and of course we are campaigning extremely hard to retain East Coast in public ownership and to extend this model to the rest of our railways. You know, during my watch, whatever changes are needed to eliminate our union’s deficit will not be made at the expense of protecting your livelihoods!

Lastly, can I also take this opportunity to wish you and all your loved ones all the very best in 2014.

Manuel Cortes

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