By Phil Marsh

Eurostar staff commence strike action and Virgin Trains East Coast ballot for industrial action

Published: 12th August 2016

Summer of anti-modernisation rail strikes continues

The summer of rail strikes continues and has spread to other train operators. The common link between all the strikes is the rail union the RMT and the planned introduction of new trains on all routes affected by the industrial action.

On strike now

Eurostar train managers belonging to the RMT have commenced strike action today but Eurostar has announced that the effect will be minimal and that they will provide a good service.

The strikes will take place over two periods: Over four days from 0001hrs 12 August 2016 to 2359hrs 15 August 2016. The second action is over three days from 0001hrs 27th August 2016 to 2359hrs 29th August 2016 inclusive.

Eurostar announced on its website that “We are aware of the RMT/TSSA plans for strike action this weekend and that on the days of the strike we have made some modifications to our timetable to ensure that all passengers will be able to travel.

The following train will be cancelled on Friday 12 August

Train 9133, the 1252hrs Brussels to London

Saturday 13 August Eurostar expects to operate a normal service with no cancellations

Sunday 14 August cancellations:

Train 9035, 1413hrs Paris to London

Train 9045, 1643hrs Paris to London

Train 9016, 1001hrs London to Paris

Train 9040, 1631hrs London to Paris

Monday 15 August:

Train 9013, 0843hrs Paris to London

Train 9008, 0755hrs London to Paris

What to do if you are affected

Intending passengers should have been contacted by Eurostar and offered the choice of travelling on another service or on an alternative date but the company says that they expected to carry all customers currently booked to travel this weekend.

What is the strike all about?

In the RMT’s words, “In a long-running dispute with Eurostar International Ltd on the work/life balance of safety-critical train managers, rail union RMT is announcing two periods of strike action on the service. The dispute centres on Eurostar’s failure to honour an agreement from 2008 which sought to ensure that train managers could expect a good work-life balance in terms of unsocial hours and duty rosters. RMT members voted massively in favour of strike action on the basis that Eurostar had failed to honour their commitments and the fact that work-life balance was being repeatedly undermined.

They said:

RMT General Secretary, Mick Cash said:

“Our train manager members at Eurostar have a heavy commitment to shift work and unsocial hours and are sick and tired of the company’s failure to honour agreements. Our members have every right to have a fair work/life balance that fulfils the operational needs of the company while guaranteeing quality time off for friends and family.

It’s now time for Eurostar to come to the negotiating table with a set of proposals that honours our agreements and guarantees our members a genuine work-life balance.”

What does a Eurostar Train Manager do?

Train managers carry out safety-critical roles on all Eurostar services through the Channel Tunnel where safety regulations determine crew duties when in the channel tunnel.

Virgin Trains East Coast staff ballot in favour of industrial action

The RMT has just announced its members working for the Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC), 90% owned by Stagecoach and 10% by Virgin, have voted in favour of industrial action.

The RMT announced that 84% voted in favour of strike action in the ballot over a threat to jobs, working conditions and safety on VTEC. In a second vote, nearly 90% voted in favour of industrial action short of a strike and what happens next is being considered by the union executive.

The RMT claims on their website that the dispute came to a head as VTEC has ignored the agreed negotiating machinery and subjected staff to a barrage of direct propaganda justifying their attempts to bulldoze through a package of cash-led measure that would decimate jobs, working conditions and threaten the safety regime that currently ensures a guard on every train. Nearly 200 jobs across the franchise are threatened by the cuts [ they claim].

They said:

Transport Secretary said “that the RMT should stop being militant and get back to work and that these minor matters are not to do with passengers, pay or jobs and yet the unions want to hang on to working practices that are decades out of date”.

East Coast finance whispers…

The RMT has published on its website that it is aware of talk within the [rail] industry that Virgin/Stagecoach seriously overbid for the East Coast franchise. It is thought that VTEC’s incompetence means that they are losing a fortune every week and are now looking to hack back on the staffing budget to try and prop up their position.

Stagecoach as a listed company has to announce its financial performance and the last set of results recently published clearly stated that revenue was falling behind the projected growth levels by several percentage points thus squeezing the margins.

It is known that the Department for Transport and VTEC were unhappy at the granting of access rights to open access companies such as Grand Central and First Hull Trains on the East Coast main line in competition to VTEC. And the prospect of more Transpennine services in a year or two will add to the competition between York and Scotland to VTEC and potential for revenue abstraction.

They said:

MT General Secretary Mick Cash said:

“RMT will not sit back while nearly 200 members' jobs are under threat and while conditions and safety are put at risk by a franchise which is clearly in financial trouble. The RMT is aware that VTEC management are putting out regular propaganda messages to their employees, to justify the company`s attempts to attack job security, terms and conditions of employment and current working practices.

In response to company propaganda, RMT’s view is clear. Long-standing agreements between our two organisations dictate that the company must negotiate with RMT, as a recognised trade union to those agreements, yet the company say these changes are a consultative process.

That is simply not true. Any changes to staff terms and conditions are negotiable matters. “The company have chosen to treat the negotiations as a game thus far, merely going through the motions of pretending they did not yet know what their plans entailed. To behave like that is to treat the union and its members with pure contempt.

“Our members will not pay the price for a crisis cooked up in the Virgin/Stagecoach boardroom. We will now be considering the massive mandate for action delivered by our members in this ballot and the union remains available for serious talks.”

No comment?

The Stagecoach and VTEC websites at the time of posting this content were silent on the issue.

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