Breakdown in Industrial Relations – Northern Rail

Breakdown in Industrial Relations – Northern Rail

8 July 2015


Our Ref: BR2/14/2

Our Ref: BR2/14/2

8th July 2015

Dear Colleague

Breakdown in Industrial Relations – Northern Rail

Further to my letter or email of 2nd July 2015 in which I advised you of the ballot result. I regret to have to inform you that instead of negotiating and addressing the issues that have been of major concern to you and the union Northern Rail has used the anti-trade union legislation to stop you taking industrial action.

They have had ample opportunity to negotiate with the union and we have at all times made it clear that this was our preferred option. Industrial action is always a last resort.

However, Northern has instead spent it’s time, effort, energy and money on lawyers trying to find legal loopholes in the dispute, time better spent negotiating I’m sure you will agree. This is a contemptuous attitude to take against its employees – you.

They questioned some of the grades we listed in our notice of ballot. When the union advises the company we are holding a ballot we have to tell them the grades and workplaces of our members. Members advise us of their grade as they see it and may call themselves a Clerical Officer for example, another member may call themselves a Travel Centre Advisor but they could easily be doing the same job.  Basically the company were nit-picking on this and other issues with the actual notice – we can only give them the information in our possession. This is an area that we would have been able to defend.

Other areas of the dispute were more difficult to defend. As you know we were trying to protect the jobs and responsibilities of our Guard members by insisting there be no extension of Driver Controlled Operation. We believed that should Northern give us the assurances we sought then any new franchise would have to abide by that agreement. Regrettably this is not the case and any dispute would have had to be with the new franchisee.

We were also trying to protect and enhance the jobs of members by insisting that zero hours contracts, the use of contractors and the casualisation of the workforce cease. Northern’s use of contractors that pay less, have worse terms and condition and the use of zero hours contracts is a disgrace. It also has an impact, in our view, on the terms and conditions of directly employed members. If it is cheaper to use these contractors in the chase for bigger profits then the company will utilise them more and more. This could mean our members lose their jobs or management insist that our members work for less and give up some of their hard earned terms and conditions. One of our aims was to insist that the contractors pay their staff the same as Northern employees. Our thinking was that it would then be in Northern’s interests to bring these jobs in house protecting current staff’s pay and conditions. Again we have been advised that this makes the dispute more about the contractor and so would be difficult to defend in Court.

As I said at the beginning of this letter Northern were more interested in running to their lawyers than negotiating but they were also cynical in the extreme in their next move. They advised the union that they would be seeking Damages in the High Court should we call industrial action. We have been advised that the amount the union would have to pay them could be as high as £500,000. The union has defended itself against companies in the past when we have been advised by our legal team that we have a reasonable chance of defending our position. Regrettably in this case we have been advised that, as the law stands, we would be unable to defend this case.

Having taken note of the challenges from Northern, the anti-trade union legislation and the advice from our Solicitors the General Grades Committee has reluctantly had to accept that the current dispute cannot be progressed with any hope of success. It would be misleading members if we went to court knowing that our chances of defending our position were untenable. It would also be wrong to call on members to take industrial action knowing that the company would seek and obtain such high damages.

However, there are still issues that need to be addressed and the General Grades Committee has instructed me to personally seek a meeting with the company at the highest level. I am also arranging an urgent meeting with the relevant Company Council representatives, Lead Officer and members of the General Grades Committee to see how we can go forward in trying to resolve these outstanding issues.

Having returned such a high ‘yes’ vote in the ballot I know you will be disappointed not to be able to use the mandate for industrial action but in this instance the anti-trade unions laws have done what they set out to do – stop the democratic right of individuals to use their power of last resort - the withdrawal of their labour.

I will, of course, keep you informed of developments.

Best wishes.
Mick Cash
General Secretary

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