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Meet the New Boss

15 August 2011

On Wednesday, 10 August, the TSSA management grade negotiations team met with Network Rail in an attempt to resolve our current industrial dispute over fair pay and respect at work. This was the first time that the full negotiating team had met with David Higgins. We had hoped for significant progress after an informal preliminary meeting had given the impression that David Higgins was interested in developing a better working relationship.


… same as the old boss?

Unfortunately, despite the previous indications, on each and every issue that we raised we were stonewalled, told ‘no’ or offered a ‘joint working group’. There were no specific commitments. However, what was made plain was that Network Rail have no intention of moving on this years 2.5% pay award, and that managers can expect a significantly below inflation increase next year. On the equal pay issue we were told that it would be the responsibility of the joint working group to identify ‘compensatory savings’ if there was to be any progress on equal pay. There is still equivocation on the issue of respecting basic employment rights.

What next

Overleaf we reproduce the written list of issues submitted to Network Rail before our meeting, and the verbal responses we received (we have yet to receive a written response). There will be a meeting of our Area Council reps next Friday 19 August to consider your views. Please ensure that you speak to your local reps to let them know how you would like the TSSA to respond.

If you don’t have a local rep, or you don’t know who they are, you can let us know your views by emailing: If you are interested in how you can get involved in our campaigns for fair pay and respect at work drop us a line at the same email address.

Have you voted?

The TSSA ballot for industrial action closes in one week, so if you haven’t done so already please get your vote in. If you haven’t received a voting paper (or have mislaid it), then please call 0800 3282673.

Also, if you have not already done so, please don’t forget to complete our fair pay survey:

TSSA’s bargaining agenda, and Network Rail’s responses.

The overall increase in the ‘pay pot’

Network Rail has implemented a 2.5% pay increase distributed by the discredited PRP system. The TSSA claim was for RPI plus 0.5%. David Higgins has indicated that he will not review this decision. However, TSSA has asked for consideration of a two year pay agreement (in the context where operational grades have been offered RPI plus 0.5% next year). It is critical to the TSSA that we find a way to address the acute sense of injustice felt after year-on-year pay awards for bands 1 – 4 which are substantially less than those for the bands 5 –8.

Network Rail’s Response: there will be no re-opening of the 2011 pay pot, and next year’s pay settlement will be based on the same formula as this years (i.e. it will not match the Operations grade offer of RPI + 0.5%).

A pay rise which is distributed fairly

David Higgins has indicated that he has sympathy with the trade union concerns about pay distribution. This was a step forward from Network Rail’s previous position that the performance related pay system was achieving its aim of distributing pay in accordance with performance. We need to jointly address the failings of the PRP system for this year’s pay award and consider how we move forward in a way which gives confidence that in future pay will be distributed fairly. The main issues are that the performance appraisal itself lacks objectivity, transparency and fairness, and the relationship between appraised performance and pay increase is at time arbitrary with large variations between the pay awarded to people with the same performance.

Network Rail’s Response: David Higgins denies that the PRP system is ‘broken’, but he is prepared to initiate a joint working group (to report within 8 weeks) but which excludes TSSA full time officers.

A commitment to developing a fair and transparent pay structure

In 2008 Network Rail agreed to discuss TSSA’s concerns regarding the pay structure. Those discussions have never been instigated. TSSA’s latest survey indicates that it is not uncommon for there to be pay differentials of more than 40% between people performing the same role. We have also identified a significant gender pay gap. David Higgins accepted that there was work to be done on the gender pay issue and the broader issues of differentials. We are therefore repeating our existing requests: for a commitment to a) measure the equal pay gap between women and men and explore the reasons for it with a view to taking steps to close the gap, b) a commitment to sample 10% of woman managers with a view to establishing if they are being unlawfully paid less than equal pay for work of equal value with that of male colleagues, c) to share with the TSSA, for the most populous 10% of roles, data on the lowest pay, the highest pay, the median and inter-quartile range for that role. While David Higgins has given a verbal commitment to work with us on equal pay this needs to be translated into a series of specific commitments.

Network Rail’s Response: Network Rail does not recognise a problem with large differentials between workers undertaking the same work. The gender pay issues will be considered in an Equalities Working Group. There will be no publishing of rates of pay, and no systematic overhaul of the pay structure.

A review of long hours and the extent of unpaid overtime

Network Rail has an obligation under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to protect the health safety and welfare of its employees. The response to our request for the company to work with us to commission an independent survey of all management grade staff to identify the extent of a ‘long hours culture’ and to identify best practice in reducing this stressful and ultimately counter-productive culture appeared to abdicate this responsibility. While we accept that employees do need to take responsibility for their work/life balance, this should be a joint responsibility. Our concern is that Network Rail is not proactively addressing that responsibility. We are therefore seeking, at the very least, a sample survey relating to hours and workloads.

Network Rail Response: Network Rail does not recognise a problem with a long-hour culture, and Network Rail will not be addressing this concern until we provide ‘evidence’ that there is.

An extension of flexible and remote working policies

Network Rail’s formal position remains that there is already a flexible working policy in place. Informally, there has been some indication that a review of extending flexible and remote working (particularly in the context of wholesale relocations of parts of the business) may be considered. The value of truly flexible working was highlighted on Monday 8 August in a letter to the Times newspaper by leading industrialists (including representatives of Marks and Spencer, British Gas, BT, and KPMG). For the company, a considered response to flexible and remote working (including part-home working) can mean the difference between losing valuable staff to the industry, paying substantial redundancy payments and recruiting people new to the railways, or retaining existing staff and their collective knowledge of the industry. For our members it may mean the difference between a job and redundancy at a time of acute labour market crisis.

Network Rail Response: The wording of the flexible working policy will be reviewed but there will be no fundamental changes. There will be no consideration of ‘part home-working’. Network Rail wants attendance in Milton Keynes ‘five days per week’.

An extension of travel subsidies and facilities

The TSSA recognises that Network Rail has moved on this item, although the move has been very small. We remind the company of the difference between staff receiving concessions and those with mere subsidies. The difference will become increasingly relevant with large-scale relocations.

Network Rail’s Response: There will be no further movement on this item.

The equalities agenda

Network Rail’s current position is that it is not legally obliged to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty (section 149 Equality Act 2010) on the grounds that it is a private company. The TSSA believes that this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the company’s legal obligations.

Despite this disagreement, Network Rail has indicated that it is willing to discuss the establishment of a joint Equalities Forum. Our view is that such a forum should be a subgroup of the management grade council, meet quarterly, report in writing to the Management Council, and make recommendations when appropriate. We are of course willing to explore other structures that might be advanced.

The remit of this group should be to work collaboratively to assist Network Rail in meeting its obligations under S 149 Equality Act (i.e. to eliminate discrimination, advance equality and foster good relations) and to work towards best practice in delivering a high quality working environment free from unlawful discrimination.

The joint working group should review statistics on recruitment, promotion, reorganisations (including redundancies), formal actions (discipline, capability etc), grievances, and employment tribunal applications to satisfy itself that a) there are no patterns of disproportionate impact and b) if any such disproportionate impact is identified to recommend appropriate steps to eliminate it. The most appropriate way to do this might be through reviewing mandatory Equality Impact Assessments.

Individual cases should not be discussed in the forum, except in the context of 'lessons to be learned' from specific outcomes (i.e. tribunal recommendations).

Network Rail’s Response: They are willing to convene an equalities working group to consider concerns raised by the union but wish to exclude the relevant TSSA paid official from sitting on this group. With regard equal pay there will be no new money to address the gender pay gap (instead the company wants the TSSA reps to propose wage cuts or job cuts to fund any uplifts!).

Commitment to respecting individual employment rights

At our meeting on 29 July, David Higgins, offered to write a statement setting out his commitment to fair employment practices and reminding staff of their rights and obligations. In effect we need to see a commitment from the top to the proper observance of existing procedures.

In summary our concerns related to the practice of dismissing staff without the individual having the opportunity to put their case in a hearing. The tolerance of acts of racial abuse, sexual harassment, victimisation of health and safety whistleblowers and the issuing of unlawful instructions to discriminate (for example on the grounds of race, or gender).

We are looking for a more detailed understanding of what David Higgins intends to publish and when, as well as an agreed formula for us to ‘escalate’ any future examples of wholesale breakdown in compliance with established procedures. We would hope that with the appropriate commitment from the Chief Executive that very few examples would need to be raised with David Higgins himself.

Network Rail’s Response: David Higgins will be making a statement on company values (the contents of which we have not seen). However, two senior HR figures argued that arbitrary dismissals without a formal hearing were ‘rare’ and implied that there was no need to prohibit the practice.

Is this good enough?

Above is the TSSA’s position statement and Network Rail’s response. It is for you the members to decide if this is acceptable. It certainly does not meet our aspirations. Please let your reps know what you think of the above. Meanwhile don’t forget to vote in the industrial action ballot, if you have not completed the on-line pay survey, please do so:

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