Saturday, May 20, 2006

Railway workers take pensions fight to Parliament

SO MANY rail workers turned up at last Tuesday’s (9th May) lobby of Parliament – in defence of workers’ pensions – that the rally had to be divided into two committee rooms at the Palace of Westminster.
The lobby was organised jointly by rail unions to demand Government pressure on the privatised rail companies to negotiate with the unions over the future of the industry’s pension schemes.
The speakers at the rally – Francis O’Grady from the TUC, Keith Norman, general secretary of the train drivers’ union Aslef, Bob Crow of the RMT, Gerry Doherty of TSSA and John Wall (Amicus) – scurried from room to room to get the pensions message over.
Keith Norman condemned the Government for failing to offer any help in solving the burning issue of pensions in the rail industry. urgency
“The rail unions jointly went to the Department for Transport to stress the urgency of the situation, to talk about the probability of industrial action and to urge the Government to broker peace talks between the national unions and representatives of the franchised companies. They failed to do this,” he told the rally.
“They told us to go and talk to the companies individually – all 100 plus! And at the same time the minister says he hopes we can all come to an agreement.
“How can we come to an agreement if we have no one to talk to? The job of Government is to arrange a forum for national talks – and it has refused to move a muscle.
“This is a decision it will regret.”
The unions were contemptuous of the Government excuse that it could do nothing because since privatisation the individual companies were independent and out of its control. control
Gerry Doherty pointed out that the Government now hands out £4 billion to train companies every year. “How can anyone control a purse of £4 billion and not have any influence?” he demanded.
“When our industry was nationalised the taxpayer subsidised the industry by £1 billion. Since privatisation the subsidies have gone to £4 billion,” he added.
“Can you imagine the outcry in the media if those figures were the other way round and nationalisation was shown to cost four times as much as privatisation?”
There seems little chance that industrial action over the issue will be averted. The RMT and TSSA announced at the lobby that they will commence ballots within all companies before the end of May.