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The RMT will continue to fight for safety on rail and at sea

TRANSPORT workers are clearly bearing the brunt of austerity-led policies, whether it is from this rotten Tory government or the institutionally neoliberal European Union.

Rail staff are at the sharp end of the chaos taking place on our railways as tempers fray across the country and the government continues its campaign by proxy to remove safety-critical guards from services. 

The mad rail franchise model is in complete disarray. A new East Coast operator has taken over the running of the service from failed Virgin Trains East Coast — the second time the public sector has had to step in to bail out a failed private-sector operator. 

London North East Railways is now the brand name of the government’s operator of last resort, but this is only a temporary measure as Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has made it clear he intends to reprivatise the East Coast in the next couple of years.

After these private-sector failures, on top of the Carillion debacle, you would expect even this ideologically blinkered Westminster government would not be hell-bent on giving this essential national rail line back to another profiteering outfit — but it is!

Both Govia Thameslink and Arriva Rail North should also be stripped of their franchises but it is clear that the privateers are planning to shred the safety culture in the same way that they are shredding the timetables.

It is clear as day that both Govia and Arriva are in breach of their franchise terms by any reasonable measure and to allow this shambles to just stagger on is wholly unacceptable.

Yet Grayling continues to deny any responsibility while placing the blame everywhere else except his own Department for Transport. 

His constant attacks on the workforce and Network Rail — an organisation that Grayling has deliberately set out to undermine on ideological grounds — has to stop, and we need a new approach which sees our railways as a vital public service rather than a one-way ticket to the bank for greedy and incompetent train companies.

There is a real danger that the timetable chaos unleashed across the country fades from the headlines and just becomes accepted as the norm, with both Grayling and his contractors let off the hook. It is important that that is not allowed to happen.

In the meantime this union will continue to fight for passenger safety, against any extension of driver-only operation and for public ownership.

The upcoming 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster, which claimed the lives of 165 offshore workers and two seafarers, is also a reminder of the importance of trade unions in building a culture of safety. 

Although welcome, it is a concern that the Health and Safety Executive has used this anniversary to demand that all offshore oil and gas production operators in the North Sea do more to prevent dangerous releases of oil or gas. 

The EU has also shown its true colours once more after MEPs recently voted against road safety and for social dumping for Europe’s three million professional drivers.

European Parliament transport committee amendments to the EU Mobility package would exclude road workers from the new EU Directive on Posted Workers — denying drivers any formal rights to fair pay when working across borders. 

It would also mean less rest every month, with employers able to keep drivers on the road for three weeks with no more than 24 hours’ rest, increasing the risk of fatigue-related accidents.

Ultimately free movement provisions in the EU single market promote widespread social dumping in the road transport and maritime sectors and the practice is spreading. 

Any EU legislation that allegedly prevents social dumping is just window dressing and is being ignored with impunity anyway.

It is glaringly obvious that there are no controls in place or sanctions against companies that actively encourage social dumping on an industrial scale in the relentless drive to the bottom in the pursuit of corporate profits.

This process has been backed up by EU courts that have made various rulings in favour of business rights in cases such as Laval, Viking and Ruffert which, in various ways, undermine the rights of workers to protect their wages and conditions. 

As European Transport Federation president Frank Moreels has said, the EU has chosen the demands of business lobbyists over quality jobs and the safety of road users while professional drivers will have less rest, less pay, with longer periods away from home — so much for “social Europe.”

Mick Cash is general secretary of RMT.


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