TSSA has accused First Group of taking a penny pinching approach to the customer relations activities in its subsidiary rail companies, in the process jeopardising large numbers of jobs.
This follows the announcements by First Group subsidiaries Avanti and Hull Trains that their customer relations staff would be transferred to a new First Group subsidiary company with a contact centre in Sheffield.
With the Avanti staff currently based in Birmingham, and the Hull Trains staff based in Hull, it is unlikely that any of them will want to exercise their rights to transfer under the TUPE Regulations and work in Sheffield. Instead, they face redundancy.
No doubt First Group are aware that few if any staff would want to transfer, and are relying on being able to recruit a new workforce on much lower pay and worse conditions of employment, with no trade union to represent them. Even if staff do transfer, the proposed move would have serious consequences for their pensions and travel facilities.
Worse, it has become clear that First Group also intends that the customer relations work currently undertaken by GWR, South Western Railway and Transpennine Express staff will also transfer to its Sheffield-based company.
TSSA believes these moves were probably planned long ago before the franchising system was ended and certainly before Covid-19 came along. TSSA’s General Secretary Manuel Cortes has written to the Secretary of State for Transport demanding that he intervenes and stops First Group from making redundant potentially hundreds of experienced and skilled staff.
At a time when the government is considering the future of the rail industry and what should replace franchises, it is clearly not sensible to force through such changes in circumstances where First Group may not even be a player in the industry this time next year!
And given the fact that Covid-19 and new technology has proved that many of the affected staff have been able to work effectively from home, even if the transfer does go ahead is it really necessary to make staff move to a contact centre in Sheffield rather than remaining where they are?
All this is not helped by the decision of Avanti to de-recognise both TSSA and RMT for the affected Avanti staff, a position that is being strongly contested by TSSA and the union’s solicitors. Despite that, Avanti have relented and at least have now agreed that TSSA paid officials and reps will have a direct union involvement in the consultation meetings which will commence on Thursday 21 October.
The TSSA General Secretary has already discussed the situation with First Group HR Director Lee Archer, who has promised to come back to him regarding these issues.
TSSA will be doing all it can to stop the completely pointless penny-pinching approach being taken by First Group in centralising its customer relations activities and throwing its skilled and dedicated staff on the scrapheap.
In the meantime, please ask your colleagues that are not members to consider joining the union – together we are stronger!