John Stewart, RMT Branch Secretary, Leeds City
I have read the article in the YEP featuring Mr Dart’s letter to his MP (YEP October 15), and felt I needed to reply.
I would like to assure Mr Dart, and indeed the whole of the train using public in Leeds and the North, that the staff that are currently undertaking the industrial action of which he speaks, are equally at the end of their tether.
I can assure you not one of the staff that have now taken 31 days of strike action want it to continue anymore than Mr Dart does, but have been left with very little option because the truth of the matter is it can only be sorted by both sides getting around the table and finding a negotiated solution, something that Arriva Rail North have constantly refused to do. Indeed when the company recently did attend talks with the union in the presence of ACAS they walked out of the talks, then promptly put out a communication blaming the unions.
Mr Dart asks the very relevant question at what point will the government make a true intervention and either blame these strikes as unlawful or provide a different service which can actually fulfil the needs of the people who elect them.
Well that’s a question I hope he gets an answer to, because we have tried without any success. I can answer the first part for him, the strikes are not illegal, our members have been balloted and have fulfilled all the requirements set out by the Government in the trade union legislation. As for a service fit for purpose, I think the recent debacle of the timetable change proved that Arriva seem incapable of running a service that is fit for purpose that fulfils the needs of anybody.
Mr Grayling and Arriva seem intent on blaming each other, when Arriva are asked about keeping the guard on all trains they respond with, “it is out of our hands.” It is a requirement of our franchise, a franchise awarded by the Government, but ask Mr Grayling about him intervening and all he says is, it is not my place to intervene, it is an argument between the company and the trade union. Not very helpful to anyone, least of all the travelling public.
Most of the travelling public that we interact with during those strike days whilst on the picket lines actually support the action once it is explained to them that the strike is about safety, their safety.
It is about allowing fair and equal access for all on to the train service, the old and infirm, the disabled that need a guard to be there to help and assist them to access the service they wish to travel on, when they want to travel, not have to give advance notice to travel because 65% of West Yorkshire stations are unmanned. It’s about feeling safe when they and everyone else travel, young and old alike, it’s about a point of contact on the journey that goes wrong, all the things a driver cannot do, his job is to concentrate on driving the train safely from A to B. But if you listen to the companies, and yes you the press, the only message that seems to be put out there is this strike is about who opens and closes the doors, totally wrong and misleading.
Despite what Richard Allen would have you believe the solution is in his and his company’s hands, get around the table for meaningful talks and find a negotiated solution. It has been done with other companies in other parts of the country.