I am a typical railway worker based in Bristol, I have worked on the railway for over 3 years, having started just under a year before the Covid-19 pandemic. I worked through the pandemic as normal, as did all of my colleagues. We understood that our job was to keep the country going through difficult times. We risked our health to come in and do our job, sadly many of our colleagues didn’t make it and I miss them deeply.
During Covid, we were taken over by the Department for Transport under an Emergency Measurers Agreement (EMA) which meant that the Department for Transport funded our costs whilst the Train Operating Companies (TOCs) operated the service. This meant that they took on the financing of the railways, including controlling any pay awards that were given to staff. Today, we continue to be under the control under the Department for Transport, under a system called a National Rail Contract (NRC). These contracts are to prepare the TOCs for operation under Great British Railways (GBR), the latest attempt by the Tories to repaint the turd of privatisation.
Since British Rail was broken up in the 90s, mostly under John Major, various Labour and Conservative governments have tried to reform the privatised system that was put in place. The Governments first plan was to have every part of the railway for pure profit, which resulted in several major derailments and crashes. Then the government took part of the system in house under Network Rail, but kept the train operation under the control of the TOCs – mostly profit driven private entities.
Sadly Covid meant that many passengers stopped using the railway, and this is what led to more government intervention this time round. Covid changed the way we worked, because we became directly accountable to the Department for Transport for every penny that was spent. If we wanted to buy a pack of pens or cleaning cloths, it had to be justified to DfT civil servants! However, post pandemic travel has nearly returned to what it was in March 2020, shortly before lockdown, in some cases services are busier than they were.
Until recently, workers were able to get pay deals every year, with our unions able to pressure the private companies. We were also able to guarantee good conditions to our members, because over the last 20 years the railways have seen an explosion in passenger numbers. This is partly as a result of Network Rail’s improved safety record, and the increase in attractive leisure fares being offered.
During the height of Covid, we took part in meetings with senior managers from the TOCs, Network Rail, and the Department for Transport. In these meetings, we were told that the railway wasn’t fit for purpose, that it was too expensive to run and that it had to be reformed. We were asked to agree to a voluntary severance scheme, in order to help reduce the cost of running the railway by £2 billion a year. It became increasingly clear that the government wanted to come after us, and that the meetings between our Trade Unions and the Department For Transport were going nowhere. We were told that pay rises were not possible, because of the amount of money that the government had spent on subsidising the day to day cost of the railway. We were to pay the monetary cost of the Covid pandemic.
The latest from the government is that if we want a pay rise, we will have to agree to savage cuts. Cuts that will lead to all the ticket offices in England being closed, our pensions being devalued and cut, people that work on stations being given extra work for no extra pay, and passengers being left with stations that have no facilities or staff. Not only are these terms unacceptable to us, they should also be unacceptable to anyone who uses the railway. If these cuts are allowed to happen, our railway will be less safe, , less user friendly , and less accessible for everyone. It has been proven multiple times that removing staff from the railway causes an a worse service for the passenger, and an increase in violent incidents.
If passengers, staff and all workers across the country come together, we can effectively oppose these cuts and call for higher wages. More than this we have the potential to start a mass movement to call for higher pay and better conditions for every worker, something which the RMT supports.
If you support every worker getting a pay rise, please support our actions on the 21st, 23rd and 25th June. ■