Virgin XC should negotiate or face escalation of dispute
RMT: March 3 2006
VIRGIN CROSS Country should negotiate a settlement to the long-running dispute over guards' Sunday pay rates or face the prospect of an escalation of industrial action, Britain's biggest rail union said today.
As more than 300 guards prepare to strike for the tenth successive Sunday, RMT once more urged Virgin to accept the union's offer of unconditional talks at conciliation service Acas.
"This dispute should have been settled months ago, but Richard Branson's Virgin board blocked a deal that would have cost the company just £6 per guard per Sunday shift," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.
"Instead, for two months they have been paying managers £100 plus commission in their futile effort to break our members' resolve.
"They have even had the gall to go cap-in-hand to the government seeking public money to reward their intransigence - a shameful move that was exposed in parliament last week.
"In a series of strike meetings our Virgin XC members have made it clear that they remain absolutely determined to win a just settlement to this dispute.
"Virgin can break the log-jam by dropping their outrageous pre-conditions for entering talks, or they can continue to show contempt for their workforce and their passengers and face the prospect of an escalation of the dispute," Bob Crow said.
Early Day Motion 1574, tabled by Jeremy Corbyn MP and signed to date by 24 others
"That this House is deeply concerned at the ongoing dispute between Virgin Cross Country and the Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT); is further concerned at reports that Virgin may be compromising the safety of passengers by the use of untrained and medically restricted personnel on strike days; regrets that Virgin has refused to return to the negotiating table; and therefore calls on Richard Branson to urge his company immediately to re-open negotiations with the RMT."
2nd March 2006
To all Virgin Cross Country Train Manager Members
RATES OF PAY FOR SUNDAY WORKING ? VIRGIN CROSS COUNTRY TRAIN MANAGERS ? DISPUTE UPDATE
There have been a number of developments in the dispute since I wrote to members last week on which I now wish to report. These include political issues directly concerning this dispute as a result of the parliamentary debate I?d mentioned last week. In addition to this I wish to report on an approach to ACAS made by the Union and management?s appalling attitude towards it. I also need to relay some worrying information about management victimisation in the Plymouth area as well as an update following the conclusion of the nationwide series of open meetings for Train Managers the Union had organised.
Parliamentary Debate ? NO PAYOUTS FOR VIRGIN CROSS COUNTRY
I am pleased to report that RMT has successfully scuppered Virgin Cross Country?s hopes of getting a government bail out to help them fund the ongoing Sunday Payments dispute.
A parliamentary debate was forced on this very issue by the Union when it become known that since March 2003, no less than £23 million of tax payers? money had been paid out to train operating companies to cover loses caused by industrial action by RMT.
Up to now, such payments had been made surreptitiously with the public having little or no knowledge about them. But by successfully placing this absurd arrangement in the public domain, there was no way that even this government could stand the ridicule of publicly funding a trade dispute that would only cost £6 per Train Manager per Sunday to resolve.
Instead, the employers? representatives had to sit and listen as the Transport Minister, Derek Twigg, admitted he had been in regular contact with Virgin Cross Country since the dispute began on 1st January. No doubt there were talks about how the government could help the company out.
But as a result of yesterday?s debate and the excellent work put in by our parliamentary team, the Transport Minister was forced to shelve any behind the scenes deal that may have been made. In again admitting there had been meetings with the company, he stated: "This does not mean that the Government are making or planning any intervention in this or any other dispute. As I have explained, industrial issues are for the individual company and the union to resolve."
So it now seems quite clear that for the time being, unless they return to the negotiating table, Virgin will have to continue shelling out £100 plus commission to every strike breaker every Sunday without getting subbed by the government.
Our parliamentary group will of course be closely monitoring the situation and will alert us in the event of any sign of a government u-turn. In the meantime, they have tabled an early day motion expressing deep concern at the ongoing dispute between Virgin Cross Country and RMT.
The motion addresses reports that Virgin may be compromising the safety of passengers by the use of untrained and medically restricted personnel on strike days and expresses regret that Virgin has refused to return to the negotiating table and calls on Richard Branson to urge his company to immediately re-open negotiations with RMT. As I write this letter, 24 MPs have put their signatures to the motion.
RMT Approach to ACAS
Hopefully this latest set-back for the company will get them back to negotiations, because an earlier attempt by RMT to get them to talks via ACAS was met with a response that can only be described as disgraceful.
The company responded in a letter to ACAS which put outrageous preconditions before they were prepared to get round the table. These preconditions were:
* That all industrial action ceased with immediate effect.
* That RMT accepted the principle that the benefits of any improved productivity are shared with the company with the RMT?s share funding its claim for improvement in the hourly rate for Sunday Working.
* That RMT formulate proposals regarding where productivity could be found in Train Managers? duties and/or terms and conditions and submit them to the company in advance of negotiations commencing.
* That we negotiate on the productivity improvements the company has already proposed.
To expect us to agree to any of this is absurd. The points they make about productivity are the very essence of why we are in dispute as it is. Our demand was that the Sunday payments increase without productivity in order to compliment the 35 hour week agreement rather than make a mockery of it. And the whole concept of putting preconditions before meeting under the auspices of ACAS makes a complete mockery of the conciliation process itself.
In short, the above four points put down by the company were just a round about way of saying that they?re refusing to negotiate, but as I said, this situation could now change.
Management Intimidation ? Stand Firm and Remain Dignified
As I said earlier there has been a worrying development in the Plymouth area following scurrilous accusations against an RMT member participating in picket duty there. A strike breaker complained to management that she had heard somebody call out "scab" from a distance as she was working a train.
During the course of the management investigation the incident was increasingly blown up by the complainant and management. As the investigation progressed, what had started out as a voice calling in the distance had escalated into a face-to-face confrontation. If such fabrication isn?t bad enough, management are also harassing the witnesses to the incident. Unfortunately for them, the key witnesses to the event (that didn?t even happen in the first place) were fellow strikers on the picket line one of whom is an RMT Company Council Rep.
Management are putting unprecedented pressure on these individuals to make false statements that will incriminate our member. Obviously these principled people are telling the company where to go, but this situation does stress the need for all of us to stand strong because no doubt similar stunts will occur elsewhere across the country.
For my part, I can only make one thing abundantly clear at this moment. This dispute will not be settled so long as one RMT member is disciplined, victimised or punished in any way for taking part in lawful industrial action. At end of this dispute, everybody returns to normal working with a clean slate.
Train Managers Remain Solid
The meetings organised by the Union especially for VXC Train Managers were very well attended and the mood was in all cases positive. We estimate that over a third of the membership involved in the dispute got the chance to hear the issues and have their say. Despite the many difficulties we have experienced, the membership remains solid and determined.
The company know this and are really beginning to clutch at straws. I have just been informed that at Birmingham New Street Depot, notices have been put out advising Train Managers that TSSA are to be given recognition rights for Train Managers and representatives from this association are being invited to the depot for the purposes of recruiting Train Managers. This may also occur at other depots.
Attempts by Virgin at divide and rule tactics are only to be expected, but is this really the best that they can come up with?
RMT is in no way threatened by this action although we will be fiercely challenging the concept of TSSA getting recognition rights for train crew grades as a matter of principle. However, I thought I would relay this information so that members will be ready and prepared to tell the TSSA recruiters exactly what they think of them if and when they come sniffing around.
So for now, the Sunday stoppages continue. The General Grades Committee will again be meeting to discuss the dispute next week and I anticipate an important announcement will be made. I will write again then.
Thanks for taking the time to read this long letter. STAND FIRM.