Friday, 11 January 2008

Like a hole in the head

The decision by RMT members on First Great Western’s routes to take industrial action later this month is the very last thing the company or the company’s customers need. That the situation has arisen because of a dispute over something as paltry as the use of management staff on trains will only add to the disappointment felt by those who will be affected.

Although the strike has a legal basis it is completely without logical or moral foundation. The point is that First Great Western is completely within its rights to use whatever resource it requires to manage its operations. So long as the staff it uses are adequately trained and qualified for the job in hand, it really is no one else’s business but the company’s.

It is said that the RMT and its members object to working on Sundays. If that is so then they have one of two options: find another job where this is not a requirement, or negotiate with the company to secure some form of opt-out. If staff manage to secure an opt-out from Sunday working or they decide to call in sick so that they do not have to work, they simply cannot complain when the company makes alternative arrangements. They cannot have their cake and eat it too.

Many passengers wish to travel on a Sunday and because of this First Great Western wants to provide a good level of service in order to generate money. This is a perfectly respectable position and is a perfect example of supply meeting demand.

That the RMT should make such a huge fuss over such a simple matter demonstrates how completely out of touch it, and indeed some of its members are, with the real world. When was the last time you heard of Tesco staff striking because they have to sit behind tills or stack shelves on a Sunday? When was the last time petrol station staff refused to man the pumps on the Sabbath day?

Like it or not we now live in a society which functions almost fully for 7 days a week. The railway is not special and it is not an exception to this. Some people, but by no means all, who work on the railway desperately need to understand that the railway is a service industry. As such, it needs to be responsive to customer demand and to meet customer needs. The railway does not exist to give engineers something to do just as it doesn’t exist to provide railway staff with jobs.

Many people, some secretly some more openly, may be pleased at the RMT’s action as it makes life more difficult for First Great Western; some may be pleased because they think it will add to the pressure for First Great Western to lose its franchise. These people should think again. In this instance, they should come down firmly on the side of FGW which is trying to provide a good level of customer service. And they should condemn outright the bully boy tactics of Bob Crow and his socialist army of sympathisers whose only purpose is to score cheap political points at the expense of First Great Western, their own members and, most importantly, the travelling public.