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RMT industrial action over the future of the role of the train guard

6 April 2017

This Saturday, 8 April, RMT guard members in Southern, Merseyrail and Arriva Northern will be taking strike action over the future of the guardÂ’s role.

Many TSSA members, in particular managers, are being asked to cover the duties of striking guards.

What is TSSA’s advice to members that are asked to cover for staff taking industrial action?

TSSA members are advised to carry out their normal duties and attend for work at their normal times of work and for their normal rostered shifts. Members should decline to change their rostered hours of duty except in circumstances where their contract of employment allows their employer to change them. Should members need advice as to what their contract of employment allows their employer to instruct them to do, they should contact the TSSA Members’ Helpdesk (see below).

TSSA members are strongly urged not to agree to work extended hours, or carry out different or additional duties to those normally undertaken by them, if the need to do so arises directly out of or in consequence of industrial action, unless their contract of employment allows their employer to require them to do so. Regular rostered overtime should be worked as normal. Should members need advice as to the extent to which their contract of employment allows their employer to change their hours of work, they should contact the TSSA Members’ Helpdesk (see below).

It must be stressed that TSSA members should not at any time act in breach of their contracts of employment except in circumstances where TSSA itself calls on its members to take industrial action. To do so may result in their employer taking disciplinary action against them (including dismissal).

What about safety?

Should members, particularly those in management grades, undertake work that they do not normally carry out they should be entirely satisfied that they are qualified and competent to undertake that work. Members should not agree

to undertake any duties where there is any doubt as to their individual competence in respect of safety matters.

Recent safety related events in Merseyrail in particular have highlighted the very serious consequences for individuals that can result from their involvement in an accident or serious safety incident, including potential prosecution and a possible prison sentence.

TSSA members should invoke their legal right to refuse carry out work in circumstances where they believe there is a serious and imminent danger to themselves or others. This applies where members are instructed to carry out duties for which they believe they do not have the necessary safety competencies. It also applies if members are asked to work with others that they believe do not have the necessary safety competencies.

Keep TSSA informed

In the event that the employer seeks the agreement of, or instructs members to undertake duties normally performed by members of other unions, members are urged to report the circumstances immediately to the TSSA Members’ Helpdesk (see below). This applies regardless of whether or not the individual’s judgement is that they are competent to undertake the duties in question.

The TSSA Members’ Helpdesk should also be immediately informed should a member invoke their legal right to refuse carry out work in circumstances where they believe there is a serious and imminent danger to themselves or others.

Picket lines

TSSA may not lawfully encourage members to take part in secondary industrial action. Members may however choose as a matter of individual conscience not to cross a picket line.

Members who choose not to cross a picket line and are therefore absent from work should be clear that such action is likely to be viewed by their employer as a breach of their contract of employment, and this may result in their employer taking disciplinary action against them (including dismissal). TSSA will of course provide advice, support and representation to any member facing disciplinary action in such circumstances.

Further information and advice

Should members have any questions or queries about the advice contained in this circular, they should contact the TSSA Members’ Helpdesk for further advice and assistance - by email at helpdesk@tssa.org.uk, or by phone free on 0800 328 2673.

What is TSSA’s position regarding the role of the guard?

The RMT disputes are fundamentally about passenger safety and security and are not as characterised by the media - just disputes about who opens and closes the train doors. ASLEF has also expressed concerns about these issues.

TSSA has members that have a direct interest in these issues. We have members who are guards, and members that are called upon to drive trains. TSSA represents most managers and supervisors that manage and supervise guards and drivers. These members care deeply about the safety of passengers.

Many of our numerous station staff members are crucial to ensuring the safety of passengers boarding and alighting from trains. The jobs of some of those are under threat, and far too many stations are unstaffed.

At a time when passenger numbers are at record levels and there is frequent overcrowding, making train drivers solely responsible for safety and security on trains inevitably increases risk, a point conceded by some industry leaders. The view of safety enforcer the ORR (and others) seems to be that passenger trains running with only one member of staff – the driver – on board are ‘safe enough’.

TSSA disagrees. ‘Safe enough’ is not good enough!

Drivers can't assist passengers getting on and off trains at unstaffed stations, and they are obviously unable to deal with or deter potential or actual assaults while the train is moving! And at this time of heightened security risk on the railways, drivers are not going to spot suspect devices from their cabs.

The recent derailment and consequent head on collision between two London Midland trains in a tunnel near Watford should ring alarm bells – with both drivers in no fit state to assist traumatised passengers, it was the guards that were in a position to assist them.

As passenger numbers continue to increase, it is more important than ever that trains are staffed by people other than just a driver, people that are trained in crisis management, can safely evacuate a train, provide emergency first response, summon assistance, protect the train, and deter assaults and terrorist attacks.

The rail industry professes to want to make access to rail services easier for those with disabilities and mobility difficulties in the name of equalities. This will only be possible if there are staff available at stations and on trains to assist them in boarding and alighting, and dealing with any incidents during their journeys. And removing a second person from trains will do nothing to deliver quality customer service!

There is no doubt that government-inspired proposals to remove staff from trains are driven entirely by the desire to cut costs. TSSA calls on the government and the rail industry to re-think the removal of staff from trains and ensure the industry’s proud safety record is maintained and built upon. 

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