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No industrial action over pay

14 September 2011

Following the declaration of our ballot result (which saw a minority in favour of strike action but a substantial majority in favour of action short of strike with a total turnout of c.39%) TSSA's Area Council reps met on Wednesday of last week to evaluate where we were with this year's pay dispute. The principal issue was whether to call on members to participate in action short of strike action in furtherance of our industrial dispute with Network Rail. The reps posed the question: how do we most effectively change the balance of power between Network Rail and its workforce so that our members receive fair pay and are treated with respect?

 

Not in our members’ interest

The vote for action short of, but not for, strike action meant that any industrial action would by its nature be limited. Having conducted an online survey of members’ views and having listened to the members in their workplaces, the reps reluctantly concluded that we were not in a position to mount a successful campaign of industrial action. Given the intransigence of the employer over pay, and the ever present ‘fear factor’ amongst sections of the Network Rail workforce, the reps concluded that we would not currently generate sufficient leverage to win concessions. Having reached this conclusion calling industrial action, at this stage, would not be in our members’ interest.

We will therefore be entering into discussions via working parties on equalities and Performance Related Pay. We will enter into these working groups in good faith, but have to acknowledge in advance that these discussions will not result in any increase in this year’s pay pot.

This is not a case of the TSSA ‘throwing in the towel’, it is a tactical decision based on the feedback from members about the type of actions they would take, the pressures they would come under from Network Rail and an evaluation of whether, the action would be effective. It was not a decision taken lightly, but it was undoubtedly the correct decision in the circumstances.

What have we achieved?

The ballot result demonstrates the level of anger felt by our members over their treatment. It shows that the majority of members were willing to take some industrial action, although not strike action, over pay and respect at work. We have however begun to shape the agenda in industrial relations in Network Rail, by demanding a fair pay system and winning an equality working group.

In recent months there has been a change in the tone of industrial relations. We have seen a greater willingness by the company to engage with our members’ concerns and a more professional working relationship with the union. Unfortunately this change in the ‘mood music’ has not yet translated into substantial practical gains in our pay campaign. We will now be hoping to use the improved working relationship to win concessions around the table.

So what happens next?

There are a number of key elements to our campaign for fair pay and respect at work which we will continue to press these, these include:

  • work around long hours cultures (we will be providing support and advice to members, and campaigning around the health and safety issues inherent in long hours and excessive workloads)
  • Performance Related Pay (where we will sit down with management on a joint working party and attempt to eliminate the worst excesses of a system which is unfair, lacks transparency and is not objective)
  • the broader question of fair and equal pay (we will be targeting those roles where the pay differentials for people doing the same job are the most extreme).
  • We will continue to press for access to flexible and remote working for those whose jobs are relocated either as a result of Milton Keynes, or devolution.

We will be making use of both of the working parties that are being set up as a result of our dispute: one on equalities and one on PRP, to advance our demands for a fair, transparent and objective pay structure.

Will we be in the same position next year?

Network Rail have now said that they will approach next year’s pay negotiations with ‘an open mind and without preconditions’. While this is to be welcomed, it is not a commitment to give an award which is at least equivalent to inflation. Unfortunately, the real question will probably be whether by next April, Network Rail feel that they can, once again, impose a below inflation increase on their management workforce and continue to side-line our demands for a fair objective and transparent pay structure.

The answer to that question will depend on what we do between now and next April. Put simply we need to get ourselves better organised. There are currently areas where we do not have elected TSSA representatives, if there is a vacancy in your area, why not consider putting yourself forward. There is also the question of membership density; while we have good membership levels across management grades, they could and should improve. Why not help to build the TSSA as a strong voice in the workplace, by promoting the union to your colleagues.

Get Involved

We are looking to become a more effective trade union, this will only happen with the active engagement of our members.

We are looking for members willing to:

  • take part in local negotiations (around issues such as restructuring, devolution, Milton Keynes etc.)
  • represent colleagues in disciplinary, capability and grievance hearings
  • to act as Health and Safety representatives and
  • as equalities champions.
  • As recruiters (inviting colleagues to join the union)
  • As workplace ‘contacts’ (helping to ensure our message gets into the workplace and that members views get fed back into the union.

If you are interested in taking in knowing more about these or other roles that you could become involved in, then please drop an email to organising@tssa.org.uk.

We know we will be facing a tough set of negotiations next year with regard to pay, if we want to achieve a fair transparent and objective pay settlement, we need to start preparing the ground now.

Many thanks for your continued support.

John Page

National Organiser (South)

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