8th August 2019
Our Ref: BR2/4/1
Union to Ballot over Disgraceful Sacking of Member
Dismissal, Rebecca Hughes, Train Manager, Holyhead – Virgin West Coast
Regrettably, I am writing to you today with worrying news that one of our members has been dismissed by Virgin West Coast in what can only be described as a complete miscarriage of justice.
It is astonishing that instead of supporting a long serving loyal member of staff Virgin has taken the easy way out and appeased a serially aggressive and abusive passenger. This passenger has acted this way with other members of staff and sadly this is the second time Rebecca has been targeted.
This passenger has previously acted in a way that has put members and passengers in an impossible situation because when they questioned her behaviour, she makes very serious accusations that they are prejudiced against a disabled passenger. This could not be further from the truth. It is amazing that she already has equipment ready to film any incident and is able to place recordings on various social media sites often heavily edited to only show her side of the incident.
As a fellow Train Manager, you will be able to relate to the awful situation Rebecca found herself in. When Rebecca started work she found that instead of a 10 car set the train was made up of only 5 cars and therefore very busy. If this was not bad enough a passenger who had sensory issues and had to wear sound cancelling headphones and needed assistance from Rebecca was having a panic attack. Also on-board was a passenger with dementia who kept pressing the alarm in the toilet.
You can imagine Rebecca’s horror when the train pulled into Crewe and this aggressive and abusive passenger was waiting to get on the train. Rebecca had had to deal with this passenger earlier in the year and to quote from our member’s disciplinary hearing this was ‘the worst customer that I have ever had to deal with in my 17 years working at Virgin Trains’. You will all have had to deal with disruptive and aggressive passengers at some point in your career and this will no doubt bring back unpleasant reminders of the difficulties you sometimes face when trying to do your job.
Rebecca did tell the passenger that she could not get on the train with her mobility scooter as it was overcrowded. Being a 5 car set this was not untrue and was a reason for Rebecca’s decision. Quite rightly Rebecca also had to take into account the aggressive nature of this individual and the potential problems that could occur on a packed train.
Many disabled passengers travel on the railways daily, some have severe physical disabilities others cognitive or mental health issues. You and your colleagues up and down the railway on every single train operating company give unwavering help and assistance - often above what is expected of you.
On the rare occasions where you face a deliberately confrontational and aggressive passenger you should be allowed to, and indeed should be expected to, take a position that ensures the safety and welfare of ALL on board a train or on railway property. This is what Rebecca did.
Now, in order to placate this individual, Virgin Trains is willing to hang Rebecca out to dry. Virgin Trains obviously saw sacking our member as the easy option to appease this aggressive and abusive passenger who manipulates social media to her own end. We cannot stand by and see our member being used as a scapegoat for Virgin to take the appeasing option.
Your union has a long-standing tradition of supporting disabled members of both the public and the RMT. We campaign for better access for disabled groups and we have been working with various bodies to fight for better access to public transport. The Role of the Guard campaign is a prime example.
However, if someone is aggressive towards our members, be they able bodied or disabled, we expect support and back-up from the company to ensure both staff and passengers are safe and treated with respect and dignity. Being disabled does not give a person the right to treat staff the way this individual has done on more than one occasion.
I have today written to Virgin Trains asking management to reconsider the harsh decision taken by the company to dismiss Rebecca and instead show their full support to a long serving loyal member of staff by reinstating her to her substantive grade with immediate effect.
Should I not get a positive response then the National Executive Committee has instructed me to hold an immediate ballot for industrial action of all Virgin West Coast Train Managers for strike action and action short of a strike.
Should the ballot go ahead we need to ensure we get a massive turn-out and that our members vote ‘YES’ for industrial action. Virgin management should be supporting all staff certainly not sacking them. Sisters and Brothers, take note, it could be you next!
I will, of course, keep you advised of developments.