Our Ref: BR4/14/3
18 May 2020
IMPACT OF COVID-19 – RAIL INFRASTRUCTURE FORUM
RMT requested that Network Rail convene a conference call on Infrastructure/Engineering issues with regard to the Coronavirus crisis and to include the major contractors in the industry. I can advise you that this meeting went ahead last week.
As well as your Assistant General Secretary Mick Lynch, the meeting involved a senior director of Network Rail itself and from Amey, Babcock Rail, Balfour Beatty and Colas as well as RMT Lead Officers and Company Council Representatives from those companies.
Your union is aware that the companies would be very nervous if we pressed hard on national collective bargaining and that it might make the employers pull away from any future forum, however the meeting proceeded in a constructive manner and updates were received from Network Rail and the other companies on the general picture in relation to the response to the Covid crisis.
Their view in summary was that they were pleased with their ability to keep going after a few wobbles in the first few days/weeks and that they had stabilised fairly quickly and that the Alliances structure had assisted them in collaboration between NR and the companies. It was already understood that Network Rail had put several business measures in place including immediate payment of invoices to the companies in order to keep cash flow going, which greatly assisted them and then on to their Tier 2 companies etc.
RMT acknowledged that some of the Tier 1 responses to H&S had actually been quicker and more clear than NR's own. On the whole, they seemed to be pleased with the way the sector had responded in contrast to the likely position in CP5 where companies would wait long periods for payment which would endanger cash flow and our members’ job security.
There are particular issues for Babcock in Scotland and for Balfour Beatty and Colas in London where the TfL and Scottish Government's immediate halting of "construction-type" activities has caused immediate problems with virtually no enhancement work and in TfL virtually no engineering work at all.
That doesn't mean there are no issues and it can be assumed that there will be continuing dialogue between RMT and these individual companies on the state of their businesses and organisation, including job security. But on the whole, it might be said that the health emergency has not created a hammer blow to the sector. The issues had been addressed constructively and all companies appreciated the measures put in by NR, the efforts of their staff and the dialogue with RMT. If the additional restrictions in Scotland and TfL are not lifted or eased this could cause particular problems with there just being no activity in the sector especially for those companies committed to heavy plant based activities where it may not be easy to switch to renewals.
It was also recognised by participants that there are potential longer term problems - including a possible further lockdown if the virus transmission returns and also if passenger usage and revenue does not return to the railways at previous levels, which could lead to withdrawal of projected investment, cuts and austerity in the rail network.
So there is a good potential for business recovery and therefore our members’ job security if transition from lockdown is logical and controlled and business can return to normal.
RMT went on to set out our position on creating this joint forum at this level and the potential for on-going discussions with NR as a sponsor/convenor so that issues of mutual interest can be discussed and developed. These might include Health & Safety; training, competency and labour supply standards; and making the sector sustainable for the current and new workforce that will be needed going forward. RMT would like to develop further in the long-term with a comprehensive and sector-wide agreement but this remains a long term aim rather than an immediate prospect.
It was very positive that your union managed to convene a meeting with some of the most senior people in the sector and it was agreed to convene another meeting before the end of July to discuss the current situation and to develop other discussions and communications among the parties.
Your National Executive Committee noted this summary from the meeting and has instructed me to keep it advised of all further developments in this matter.
I trust this keeps you advised and I will write to you again when further developments arise in this matter.