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STUC Conference ’18 Challenges ahead for RMT – on rail and offshore

THIS conference gathers just a few short months before we mark the 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha Disaster which cost 165 offshore workers and two seafarers their lives.

It is shocking that 30 years on from those terrible events the safety of offshore workers is once again under pressure from a combination of poor industrial relations, transport safety and enforced shift patterns and job losses designed to prop up the profit margins of the energy companies.

Piled on top of this there is a massive £17 billion decommissioning programme due over the coming years which will see 250 platforms, nearly 2,500 wells, connected by 7,800 kilometres of pipeline, scrapped at huge cost to the taxpayer through a series of generous tax relief schemes. RMT has raised serious safety and standards concerns over this major issue for the industry.

So while we mark the 30th anniversary of Piper Alpha we need to take the opportunity once again to demand that the Cullen report recommendation for an offshore safety culture of continuous improvement is followed and that we get the public inquiry into offshore helicopter safety which has been a core campaigning issue for my union since 2009 — a period which has seen another 33 offshore workers and crew losing their lives in a series of helicopter incidents.

2018 sees another anniversary; it is 25 years since the disastrous legislation that privatised and fragmented our rail network. 

The real financial and personal consequences of the outsourcing and franchising culture were laid bare in the chaotic collapse into administration of Carillion — a company with a deep reach into Network Rail and the train companies.

Carillion mirrored in many ways the collapse of Jarvis, the three private-sector failures on the East Coast main line and the demise of the so-called public-private partnership on London Underground.  

There is a mountain of evidence against privatisation available to anyone prepared to listen and RMT has welcomed the fact that, at last, the Scottish government has shown a willingness to engage in discussions over a public-sector bid for the ScotRail franchise.

However, any bid could be costly and complex and it would be far simpler to just repeal the 1993 Railways Act, the Tory legislation which locks in the tendering process. 

Short of that happening it is important that there is a genuine public-sector option for ScotRail advanced that puts jobs, access, quality and safety first and RMT will be campaigning to make sure that happens.

The situation on rail has close parallels with the current position on the Scottish Ferry Services. 

The Scottish government review reinforced the case for permanent public-sector operation of the Clyde and Hebrides services leading RMT to demand, through a high-profile campaign, that the same principles be applied to the Northern Isles ferries, currently operated in the private sector by Serco.

It is shocking that Serco is being propped up by a series of subsidies, against a backdrop of declining passenger numbers, and has been granted an extension on its contract to late next year. 

RMT’s Nationalise NorthLink campaign has attracted wide community, trade union and political support and we intend to continue to grow and develop this initiative over the months ahead.

Overarching RMT’s ongoing battle for public ownership of our public services is the issue of Brexit and the debate over access to the single market. 

Many countries have access to the single market without being members of it and it is important that we remind ourselves that the Fourth Railway Package, currently a major focus of industrial disputes in France, applies to single market members and enshrines the principles of tendering, competition and privatisation.

From our experience of the past 25 years we know that any political and industrial position that puts jobs and services first is at odds with the liberalisation and market-driven approach which is now unrolling across the continent. 

As internationalists we support our brothers and sisters in their fight to stop their industries being subjected to the kind of profiteering and exploitation that has decimated transport in Britain.

Mick Cash is general secretary of RMT.

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