My health and safety bibliography illustrates the impact of privatisation on railway safety from the point of view of a Train Driver, union activist and H&S Rep (Health and Safety Representative) in the 1990's; as the rail unions and the Health and Safety Executive proved unable or unwilling to resist pressure from the private sector. I was an H&S Rep for approximately two and a half years, elected shortly before the Southall rail crash in September 1997 and unfairly dismissed shortly after the Ladbroke Grove crash in October 1999. The safety campaign that I launched at the workplace was heavily influenced by these two acts of corporate carnage. The issues I raised could have led to crashes as cataclysmic as those at Southall and Ladbroke Grove and therefore I took my safety representative's responsibilities very seriously. The problems this caused for the company that employed me led to my dismissal in February 2000.
I was elected RMT Train Drivers H&S Rep at SWT's (South West Trains) Waterloo depot in the late summer of 1997.1 I spent the majority of my time as a H&S Rep investigating and drawing attention to the appalling consequences of a restructuring of our working patterns - introduced in January 1997. Restructuring deals were struck with all TO C 's (Train Operating Companies), but on SWT in the London depots, restructuring was felt by Drivers to be particularly pernicious, due to the high percentage of suburban services worked at these depots. Suburban train services stopped at stations every 3 to 4 minutes, there was very little 'turn around' time between services (often as little as 6 to 7 minutes), which is reduced by problems of late running and congestion at terminus stations. This was boring and repetitive work,2 made worse through restructuring which increased our working week to a maximum of 66 hours, the working day to a maximum of 11 hours. We could now work a maximum of 7 hours before a break and minimum of 30 minute break even in 11 hour turns. Suburban services were to run DOOP (Driver Only Operation Passenger) for the first time on SWT.
ASLEF (Associated Society of Locomotive, Engineers and Fireman) negotiated these restructuring deals in the immediate post privatisation period (1995 - 1996) when they were keen to be seen as the union that could do business with the private rail bosses.
Overnight terms and conditions were sold that drivers had spent over 100 years fighting to achieve. Safety came second place as ASLEF negotiators attempted to break the problem of chronic low pay rates within the industry. On SWT the ASLEF negotiators secured a salary of £25,000 for Train Drivers up from £12,000. They did this at a heavy cost - shift allowances were sold and controls on patterns of work, along with other railway workers' jobs. ASLEF and the TOC's took advantage of the fact that there were no legal limits on the hours of work of train drivers. ASLEF at the time led by General Secretary Lew Adams (who after he was voted out by his members in 1998 went on to work as a consultant for private train operators) led their membership towards restructuring like it was the only show in town. He was willing to give the TOC 's everything they w re looking for. The RMT were more sceptical of restructuring, union policy was to oppose any restructuring package, which included an extension in hours of work (although there was sometimes a gap between policy and reality). Those great arbiters of safety the HMRI (Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate) simply rubber stamped drivers' restructuring at a national level.
ASLEF argued that one advantage of restructuring was that it would eradicate the need for overtime, that drivers would be able to spend more time with their families and friends. The SWT bonus scheme for Train Drivers introduced in the summer of 1997 put paid to that theory. Agreed between ASLEF and SWT it was an attempt to plug the gap left by drivers taking early retirement - made possible through restructuring. The media covered the story in terms of the hundreds of trains SWT were cancelling each day - but there was little coverage of the steps taken to resolve the problem. The bonus scheme offered Train Drivers four separate payments of £1,500 in addition to their basic salary every six weeks if they made themselves available to work all their rest days and Sundays and were not sick or late for work. If a driver worked all 4 consecutive bonus periods an additional payment of £1,500 was paid. It was so popular that only a handful of drivers on SWT did not work according to the bonus criteria. The situation became desperate; one driver was seen working while being sick out of the cab window; another could not sit down while driving due to pain from his piles. The moneymen were in control and greed had temporarily blinded many to the problems we faced.
An appropriate repost to this abhorrence was the 'The Train Crew against DOOP' campaign. I had lobbied for this campaign within my union branch for several months, I was concerned that the equipment for DOOP was rapidly being installed at suburban stations across the SWT network and nothing was being done to prevent it. DOOP would mean the loss of hundreds of guard's jobs, as well as having serious safety implications. 'The Train Crew against DOOP' campaign was launched at an open all grades meeting called by Waterloo RMT branch in January 1998. I moved the resolution at the RMT Train Crew and Shunters Grades Conference on this issue calling for support of the campaign and a ballot for industrial action to stop DOOP. The campaign consisted of further meetings and news letters, which were circulated throughout the region, in these I wrote about the possible safety dangers of DOOP. When the RMT NEC (National Executive Committee) balloted its guard and driver membership on SWT, the result was overwhelmingly for strike action in opposition to the implementation of DOOP. SWT climbed down and withdrew their proposals. The Managing Director of SWT, Graham Eccles said the company had not realised the strength of feeling on this issue! This was a stinging humiliation for SWT, as part of the deal with the RMT they had to sign a legal affidavit - agreeing not to introduce DOOP and to take down all DOOP equipment.3 I celebrated with SWT guards who sang the name of the RMT as if it were that of their beloved football team.
This victory over DOOP had helped stop the rot which began with restructuring. But there was still a lot more to do in order to reverse the damage it caused. A petition organised by a fellow RMT Driver at Waterloo depot took up the fight. It read ‘We the drivers on South West Trains, are seriously concerned with safety’. Signed by nearly all of
Waterloo’s 120 drivers it was sent to the Minister of Transport - Gavin Strang and Glenda Jackson the Minister for Transport in London – but there was no response. It was also sent to HMRI, this succeeded in initiating a series of meetings and correspondence with them, the inspectors ranged from those at a local level to the Principle Inspector – Adrian Ling and the Director of the Health and Safety Executive Jenny Bacon.4 Our first meeting was with local Rail Inspectors in March 1998 when we outlined our concerns regarding the changes to our working patterns. Six months were to pass before one of the inspectors replied; saying ‘that there would appear little I can do to resolve the alleged problems at Waterloo’. He offered to look at few ‘problem’ working diagrams. I replied that this was difficult as there were so many and replied with a list of 40 diagram’s that were problematic - we had made it clear there were inherent safety problems with our new working patterns as a result of restructuring, a little tinkering at the edges was not going to help. A follow up meeting was then arranged in December 1998 with Rail Inspector Mr Daniels, the Waterloo depot manager Mr Griffin and the RMT driver who arranged the petition that initiated these meetings. I asked for a minute taker at the meeting but Mr Daniels refused wanting to keep the meeting ‘informal’. After the meeting I drew up minutes from memory and notes that myself and my colleague took at the meeting. We displayed these in the union notice case. It was important that as many drivers as possible were able to read about the ignorant, rude and threatening behaviour of Mr Daniels. He was very confrontational; he explained that ‘Connex style’ management would come to the depot if we carried on complaining. My colleagues explained that travelling distances from home to work had not been considered when the restructuring package was negotiated. Mr Daniels said he could see a time when all drivers would have to live within 10 minutes travelling time of the depot (he did not explain how they were to afford this). Throughout the meeting he toed the management line completely, he repeated their favourite mantra in reply to concern’s over the safety of the restructuring package when he said ‘restructuring had been agreed by a trade union, by the members, by Railtrack, by LUL, it had been risk assessed – so why do you have a problem with it?‘
The stress survey I carried out of Waterloo Train Drivers in November 1998 was therefore very important. The results indicated that there were serious problems for many Waterloo drivers arising from the change to the working patterns, these results belied the impression that management and the HMRI tried to create that restructuring was just a problem for a few drivers ‘who did not want to drive trains’. The stress survey was the first opportunity for Drivers to indicate in a structured and detailed manner what effect the new work patterns were having on their lives. The questions I asked related to hours of work, job design, work environment and the effect work was having on their relationship with others. 121 Waterloo drivers were asked to complete the anonymous questionnaire , 62 replied - a 51% rate of return. The results although not surprising were still staggering, for example 99% of the respondents said that they suffered from stress caused by the length of time continuously worked without a break - PNB (Physical Needs Break) . Similarly 99% also replied that they suffeed stress because of the repetitive nature of the work - and so the results went on. I also allowed some space for the drivers to add their own comments, several of which I include below: -
‘It’s so difficult to know how to get motivated to try and make changes in the face of such apathy from other drivers, and such inhumanity from management and union and their conspiracy of outrageous working conditions. We need to focus our efforts on specific targets, such as an extra PNB to break up the time in the cab, and of course, the overlong, overallhours. The ones that will go furthest to reduce the ridiculous levels of stress we all work under.’ An other driver wrote ‘Irregular eating and sleeping patterns, long hours, long hours before PNB, lack of daily rest after work, slippery driving conditions and 10 hour days’ were to most problematic features of restructuring for this respondent. I wrote a special bullet in featuring the results of the questionnaire, which I sent to drivers, SWT management and Adrian Ling, Principle Inspector at the HMRI.
I began to investigate the robustness of SWT ’s risk assessment of drivers' restructuring; a project, which ran through my period as a H&S Rep. I contacted the London Hazards Centre as I had been advised by my local management that a risk assessment of the drivers' restructuring package did not exist, these managers explained that as restructuring was part of an agreement a risk assessment was not required. The London Hazards Centre wrote to Jenny Bacon Director General of the Health and Safety Executive to explain that as ‘most HSE guidance reflects the view that workplace health is too serious a matter to be conflated with negotiation on wages, terms etc and should be dealt with separately’. In response to a flurry of correspondence SWT finally admitted that a risk assessment had been carried out. My problem then was then to get sight of it, When finally successful I could then begin the detective work of fitting to gether how it had been compiled. I was keen to see the library the assessment was based on, as the bibliography looked impressive and wide ranging. This began an exhaustive process of gaining access to see the library. I was finally to establish that the library used was kept by another TOC . SWT would not call for this, the other TOC would not give me permission to visit, finally SWT agreed to release me and instructed the other TOC that I was to be given access to the library. I was surprised that the library was very limited. I was being led on a wildgoose chase and realised that no significant thorough work had been carried out at all on the risk assessment. While getting passed these hurdles SWT had placed in front of me I had been able to draw together other information, which led me to conclude that the risk assessment had a number of serious weaknesses, which made it unreliable. These were as follows : -
It relied on one body of research by Hilary Wharf that by an amazing coincidence entirely supported SWT 's contention that extended working hours do not affect safety.5, 6 Yet with the help of the London Hazards Centre I found there is a whole body of research that contradicts this.7
SWT did not risk assess potential stress levels. Yet my stress survey of the drivers at Waterloo had shown that they were suffering very high levels of stress.
There were very weak measures to monitor fatigue despite the level of risk associated with this. Research had been carried out by Circadian Technologies (an American company). The Sunday Times covered this in an article titled Rail drivers admit to nodding off (31st October, 1999). The research was carried out on British drivers shortly after rest ructuring; drivers were interviewed and had their brains electronically monitored while driving to test their levels of alertness. The researchers witnessed drivers literally 'losing it' as their eyes closed; refer ed to as 'micro sleep'. 12% of British train drivers admitted to 'nodding off' or 'falling asleep' several times a month.
The relationship with environmental issues such as the workplace seating and crash protection etc. had been excluded.
The bibliography did not match the main body of work. It had been lifted verbatim from a risk assessment by another TOC (with completely different work – long distance work only – no suburban) and simply attached to SWT's!
SPAD's (Signals Passed at Danger) had increased since the introduction of the new working patterns which indicated that the control methods/working patterns were unsound. Minutes from a SWT Joint Safety Committee July 1999 showed that SPAD 's (Signals Passed at Danger) on SWT had increased from 41 in 1997/98 to 50 in 1998/99.
In response to this Adrian Ling arranged for me to meet with David Bryant – the HMRI expert on Risk Assessments in July, 1999. Having seen my evidence David Bryant agreed to ask SWT to revise their assessment of drivers' restructuring, he later confirmed that SWT agreed to do this by 'the end of 1999'. I regarded this is a major success and wrote a special Health and Safety bulletin for Waterloo drivers to publicise this victory. My enjoyment was heightened when I received a letter from Graham Eccles, SWT Managing Director in which he curtly wrote 'The review is not taking place because you asked for it'.
The need for stringent risk assessments of drivers' working hours in the post privatisation era had been recognised in advance of privatisation.8 David Rayner, British Rail Board member for safety and operation said at a seminar held to discuss the future management of health and safety in the privatised industry that ‘Some railway operators are going to come along and put radical hours forward for approval because that’s a way of driving productivity’. He acknowledged that the new train operating companies would need to ‘conduct extensive research to find out whether they would have a significant impact on safety. I think that this is a case where we will have to do some fairly sophisticated quantified risk assessment’. My research had shown that SWT had not carried out what could remot ly be described as a ‘sophisticated’ risk assessment, and had been allowed to escape doing this by HMRI.
SWT’s contemptuous attitude to its staff’s concerns over rail safety continued after the Ladbroke Grove rail disaster on 5th October 1999 in which 31 people died. At the first Safety Committee meeting at Waterloo after Ladbroke Grove I asked my manager to list a number of items for the agenda pertinent to the crash and the effect that this had on my members. The meeting was chaired by this manager who was fairly new to the depot - Mr Hall, a self proclaimed ‘hatchetman’ and Freemason; who liked to claim the backing of lodge members at senior levels of SWT’ management to do as he liked to smash the militancy at the depot (this was the ‘Connex style’ management Rail Inspector Mr Daniels had promised when we met with him in December 1998). Mr Hall refused to discuss items I wanted listed for the agenda, the Ladbroke Grove crash, or discuss its implications for Waterloo Train Crew. He used the meeting to try and set up a partnership between himself and the H&S Reps to ‘improve safety’. He went round the table and asked if we would ‘come on board ’, the other reps frightened of the consequences of rejecting his offer agreed. I refused the offer finding it particularly repugnant so shortly after the carnage at Ladbroke Grove.
Further evidence of SWT’s and the HMRI inaction after Ladbroke Grove is also seen in connection with my continuing campaign in connection with the review of the risk assessment of drivers' restructuring. After the crash I sent more letters to the HMRI and SWT, however the review was given no extra urgency due to the crash. Graham Eccles SWT Managing Director failed to reply to my letter; indeed I was to receive no further communication from SWT about the review. The next time the company wrote to me was to confirm my dismissal. HMRI were lackadaisical; they put the issue on hold over the Christmas and New Year period - until mid January 2000. In the New Year I wrote to the HMRI chasing them up. The reply I received on 1st February 2000 from David Bryant informed me that he was still liasing with SWT and the local inspector. ‘I will update you as soon as we have the relevant information’. I was suspended from work on the 8th February, 2000. As far as I know the review of the risk assessment was never completed.
The depot manager Mr Hall was particularly obstructive towards me as an H&S Rep over Health and Safety Inspections.9 As Safety Representatives we had jointly written to HMRI to seek their advice on frequency of inspections, they supported our position - but the Inspections continued to be a problem. I had requested a walk during the hours of darkness in the principle railway sidings near Waterloo Station Clapham Yard as it had been reported that lighting was so poor as to endanger those using the yard. Several months went by without receiving a reply. Management put an embargo on one area of the Yard, in another shunters we re stopping drivers on their approach to the yard and warning them about the worst areas. The inspections became confrontational, on the day
I was sacked on the 8th February, 2000 Mr Hall had scheduled the inspection for the opposite shift - at a time when he knew that I could not attend. I had attempted to resolve this issue previously through the RMT official. It was still unresolved on the 8th Fe b ru a ry so I came into work early to speak to Mr Hall but he was not available. Later on I took advantage of a 40 minute gap in my turn of duty to speak to him. This developed into an argument and I asked to speak to the union full time officer before I w rked my next train, this request was refused. I then explained that I would work my train after using the toilet. On the way I took the opportunity to use the phone to speak to the full time union official. After finishing this conversation I had intended to use the toilet and then work the train. I did not have this opportunity as Mr Hall then suspended me, asked me to surrender my track safety cards and asked me to leave the depot immediately. An investigatory interview was held and at a disciplinary hearing the following week I was dismissed, the charges were as follows; delaying a train, failing to notify a supervisor that I was going to use the toilet, and refusing to surrender my track safety cards .
At an open meeting organised by RMT Wate rloo branch on 14th February, 2000 we launched the campaign for my reinstatement. Many workers at the meeting complained of the victimisation and harassment agenda SWT were following; so were keen to take on the company. At this meeting we formed a committee of activists who were to co-ordinate the campaign. We began by holding a rally at Waterloo Station on 28th February - the day before my appeal hearing. Several hundred people gathered outside of the station, and then marched along the roads around the station then through Victory Arch on to Waterloo concourse. We then did several circuits around the station chanting 'Health and Safety under attack, we won't rest till Sarah's back '. Bemused rush hour commuters were handed leaflets explaining the reasons for our march and rally. TV and radio covered the event. We were off to a great start .
The high profile of the reinstatement campaign had the required response in the ballot of RMT Train Crew membership at Waterloo, the result was 5 to 1 for industrial action on a 55% turn out, 64 yes, 12 no. Two days of 24 hour strike action were set; with a third to follow later on in the campaign. The strikes were well supported by RMT members. The ASLEF drivers at Waterloo invited me to their branch meeting (we were encouraging them to take out joint union membership for the duration of the dispute, in order to stop as many Train Drivers as possible from crossing picket lines). Unfortunately an ASLEF full time officer attended the meeting and urged them not to take out RMT membership. They finally agreed not to work Rest Days or overtime on the strike days and some drivers also took out temporary RMT membership in order to support our action. The picket lines were lively affairs, they were well supported by RMT activists from SWT as well as many workers for whom it was the first time they had taken part in any union activity. Also RMT activists employed by other TOC ’s, members of the RMT NEC and the Assistant General Secretary as well as health and safety campaigners joined us. There was a lot of media attention, and TV cameramen even filmed us in the local café having breakfast after having completed our picket line duties.
The media was the most successful part of my reinstatement campaign. The RMT ‘press officer’ was on holiday when I was sacked so a number of RMT activists took up the job of writing press releases and ensuring that the case was given maximum publicity, we hoped that SWT would balk from their actions under the glare of publicity. Although at first much of the press attention was of the prurient ‘woman train driver sacked for going to the toilet’ variety, we were also successful in getting publicity for the safety issues I had raised. Jeremy Hardy and Paul Foot covered my case in The Guardian. The Daily Mail and The Evening Standard (at that time obsessed with the RMT) had a number of features on the campaign. The publicity was particularly hard hitting by the time I began my industrial tribunal as this coincided with the opening of the Ladbroke Grove disaster enquiry.
We had to keep up our publicity as SWT were stepping up theirs. On each day of the three days of strike action South West Trains took out an entire page advertisement in the London Evening Standard, which cost them £10,000 a time. They also sent individual letters to striker’s home addresses. After the first 2 days solid strike action it was clear that the company had dug their heels in. Therefore it was necessary to step up the action - the RMT NEC set a third day of strike action for Waterloo Train Crew and also decided to ballot all their Train Crew members on SWT. During the campaign for a yes vote for the company wide ballot it became very difficult to speak to RMT members without management interference. SWT management were on red alert right across the region. RMT activists were thrown off SWT property immediately they were spotted by SWT, viscous propaganda was splurging out from the SWT press machine to our members home addresses. We tried to respond to this, although our response did not always reach our members. On one occasion a letter we had left for our members in their individual pigeon holes in sealed envelopes was removed by managers and thrown away. Not surprisingly given this level of intimidation and interference the region wide ballot was lost . However, the resolve of many members had been weakened because the RMT N.E.C. had backtracked on a national safety dispute regarding the serious watering down of the safety role of the guard. They had done this despite a successful ballot result (announced at the beginning of my campaign) from the majority of the RMT Train Crew membership, including those on SWT. This climb down was just a couple of weeks before the RMT balloted all their SWT Train Crew members over my victimisation. The backlash was felt in the result.
My application for Interim Relief (case number 2300891/2000) was heard just a couple of days before the first day of strike action. When the hearing began I was disappointed that my barrister was not better prepared over the details of my case. As well as this he gave the respondent’s barrister advantage, she described me as ‘stubborn and truculent' - a sexist sound bite for the court reporters; and portrayed me as a nagging woman who had been intimidating poor SWT managers. My barrister allowed her to set the tone of SWT's future campaign, their tactics became clear – they were going to try and destroy my character to detract from the rail safety issues I had raised. The argument at the interim relief tribunal centred around one tiny bit of law. Concerning at what stage on 8th February 2000 - (the day I was suspended after discussion with Mr Hall about H&S Inspection) did I cease being a H&S Rep. I lost my application, which was particularly damaging as it was just days before the first day of strike action, SWT were able to make mileage out of this.
By the time of my full Employment Tribunal in May 2000 (case number 2300891/2000) the industrial battle was over. In the rarefied atmosphere of the Tribunal I felt I was to be punished for having the temerity to have tried to resolve my case industrially. Although my statement to the Tribunal made reference to my safety campaign, this was not bought out during the proceedings of the Tribunal. Instead I was vilified for being an effective H&S Rep. SWT used the same barrister as at the Interim Relief hearing and she continued to portray me as someone who was harassing SWT managers. Unfortunately my own side aided this portrayal when they cut short my Tribunal without consulting me. They agreed not to call my two witnesses - another local rep who was in Mr Hall's office at the time of my sacking and witnessed our discussion about the safety walk on the 8th Feb, and the RMT Assistant General Secretary who represented me at my appeal. They would both have made very credible witnesses and would have helped detract from SWT's attempt to portray me as an isolated nutcase. The final result of the Tribunal was a fudge, my claim that I was dismissed on grounds of my trade union health and safety activity was rejected as was an outstanding claim of sexual discrimination I had taken out against Mr Hall; I won unfair dismissal but was found to have contributed to this by 66%. I was reluctantly persuaded by my legal team to accept an out of court settlement (thereby losing my right to appeal) the financial settlement was finally agreed at £16,000. I was very upset that the campaign ended in this way. My legal team were acting under instructions from the RMT leadership to hurry and terminate my Tribunal. Why? The press had linked the issues raised in my statement with the enquiry into the Paddington rail crash. I was claiming that I was sacked for raising safety issues in the wake of the crash. The RMT leadership were trying to avoid the wider political issues raised by the crash in order not to clash with the New Labour Government. The publicity I was getting was contrary to this aim of defending individual workers but not taking on the privatisation policies of New Labour.
Some Recommendations: -
Stronger legislation is needed to prevent employer's blacklists. I have made over 60 job applications for railway work - all over the country and for all grades but I have had no offer of work, despite an unblemished safety record. This blacklist is a punishment for me but also a warning to others thinking of speaking out.
Abolition of employees gagging clauses. I was one of a number of rail workers who spoke to the press after Ladbroke Grove - to protect my anonymity a camera view of me was not used, and an actor's voice spoke my words. Although protection of rail workers' identity is necessary in whistle blowing cases it made me appear like a criminal.
The tribunal system needs to be changed - so that the burden of proof is on the employer to show that they did not sack the worker because of their safety activities, so that there is automatic right to reinstatement for safety representatives and so that it is more representative of the safety issues raised by the rep .
It was recognised before rail privatisation in 1995 that the privatised TOC ’s could attempt to radically change driver’s hours of work, and that stringent risk assessments of these changes would be needed to ensure that the new working patterns were safe. Yet when rest ructuring happened the HMRI simply rubber-stamped drivers' re structuring at a national level, they only intervened with SWT’s assessment after I had shown it to be woefully inadequate. To my knowledge the review was never completed, although my successor as H&S Rep - Greg Tucker, did take up the issue. There were warning signs of safety problems resulting from the rush to restructure working hours; the increase in SPAD ’s on SWT simply mirrored the increase nationally10 - yet despite this the HMRI failed to act. The act of corporate manslaughter at Ladbroke Grove did not shake them into activity on SWT - even though this crash was caused by a driver going through a red light. What is the reason for this criminal lack of activity? Jane Binyon - an ex Rail Inspector writing about the ‘close relationship’ between the HMRI and the rail industry, writes that many inspectors come from the industry usually in mid career and are therefore reluctant to police their ex colleagues in the industry and want to avoid confrontation. I have shown how on SWT this cosy relationship has the potential of becoming a deadly one as the industry could rely on the Inspectorate to turn a blind eye to cuts affecting safety. Privatisation turns this relationship from being a cosy one, into one that has possibilities of corruption, as the financial stakes are so great.
However it is not enough to blame HMRI solely for what happened, this would not have been possible without the assent of the rail trade unions. How they dealt with privatisation and the effect this had on the issue of drivers' working hours is crucial to an understanding of my case. I believe that if the RMT had launched a serious hard hitting rail safety campaign - including the possibility of industrial action after the crash at Ladbroke Grove they would have received enormous public support, and representatives such as myself would not have been sacked. SWT were able to dismiss me as I was fighting my safety campaign in isolation. They portrayed me as an awkward troublemaker at a time when the RMT were trying to tread softly around the New Labour Government. The benefit of writing the publicity for my reinstatement campaign at a local level was that we were able to be critical of the government. We mocked Deputy PM John Prescott who after the Ladbroke Grove disaster had remarked that it was 'a watershed for safety' and promised 'protection for whistleblowers' in the Privatised railways. We showed through my case what a lie this was. We placed my case into its wider political significance, where as the RMT leadership wanted to deal with it as one of protection of a representative only. They were compromised in dealing with the problems privatisation caused for their membership after the election of the Labour Government in 1997. Still with strong links with New Labour they relegated the problems their members experienced due to privatisation in preference to loyalty to the party. ASLEF meanwhile regarded privatisation as something that could bring advantage to their membership. Their sectarian ideology was used to justify buying greater financial gain for their membership at the cost of other rail workers' jobs and the safety of their own member's jobs. Of course this is exactly what the TOC's were looking for, they thought the driving grade was essential – considered all other grades as surplus to requirements. The ASLEF leadership dealt harshly with any rep or activist who stood and questioned the restructuring deals, which they negotiated.
The 'partnership' offered to Waterloo H&S Reps by SWT after Ladbroke Grove was particularly repugnant in it's timing – but at no time is 'partnership' ever an answer to H&S Reps. Those reps that accepted partnership were compromised in the eyes of those they represented. I reject the argument made by Owen Tudor of the TUC writing in Hazards magazine that health and safety experience suggests that 'partnership can increase workers' control over their lives. And safety reps can play a key role in making partnership work at the workplace'. I enjoyed the role of safety representative because I believe that safety should be at the centre of the fight against privatisation. From my own experience on SWT I came to the conclusion that safety was the first thing to go by the boa d after privatisation. I was strengthened in my campaign through attending conferences organised by the London Hazards Centre11, the national Hazards Campaign12 and the RMT National Conference of Train Crews and Shunting Grades. These broadened my understanding, and gave me encouragement and belief in the validity and importance of what I was doing. Through these I developed a political analysis of what was happening and why. I believe this is crucial for trade union safety reps if we are to develop a strong network of H&S Reps capable of taking up the attacks on workers' safety and fighting back against them in the privatised, deregulated, casualised, free - market economy that is early 21st century neo-liberal capitalism.
1 I replaced Greg Tucker who was serving on the RMT National Executive Committee.
2 Delays that Kill. Jane Binyon-ex Railway Inspector. London Review of Books. Volume 22, No 6, 16th March 2000. Quotes from a Health and Safety Executive publication entitled Reducing Error and Influencing Behaviour 'up to 80 per cent of accidents may be attributed, at least in part, to the acts and omissions of people… It is wrong to believe that telling people to take more care is the answer to these problems. While it is reasonable to expect people to pay attention and take care at work, relying on this is not enough to control risk's….errors are more likely to occur under certain circumstances, including: tasks demanding high levels of alertness, jobs which are monotonous and repetitive.' Binyon recognises that train driving is one such task.
3 SWT sold this equipment to another TOC – C2C. In 2001 they announced their intentions to introduce DOOP. The RMT fought but lost a campaign to prevent this.
4 My colleagues and I had contact with the following Rail Inspectors – Mr S.S. Robertson, Mr S.D. Johnson, Mr Lloyd, Mr A.J. Daniels, Mr D. Bryant, Mr A.R. Ling, HM Principal of Railways, Miss J. Bacon, Director General Health and Safety Executive.
5 The Safety Consequences of Working Patterns. The case study of Train Drivers. Hilary Wharf. March 1996. Paper prepared for Parliamentary advisory Council for transport safety.
6 SWT MD Graham Eccles vouched for Hilary Wharfs suitability in a letter to me of 2.07.99 writing 'I am very familiar with the work under taken by Hilary Wharf. In fact in the pre privatised railway in my capacity as Director of Operations, Safety and Quality, I was the one who appointed her to carry out the work, set her remit and reviewed her output'. So that's ok then !
7 Much of this research which is available on ASLEF web site http://www.aslef.org.uk/ and Railway Safety CD Rom. Human Factors, research catalogue .
8 The Safety and Health Practitioner October 1993. Train Driver's likely focus for post privatisation profit strategies.
9 Safety Reps have the right to make formal, planned inspections of the workplace at least every three months, to investigate complaints from members, and to carry out extra inspections where there is to be or has been a change in working conditions, or where new hazards or information has become available. Safety Representatives and Safety Committees (SCRC) Regulations 1978 .
10 Consensus Kills AJP Dalton.p.24. 'At the HSC meeting of the 26th October, 1999 Vic Coleman, Head of the HSE, summarised his annual report for 1st April to March 1999 – SPAD's had risen by 8 per cent from 593 to 643'. 'The rise of SPAD's, or 'near misses' in common terms should have been of great concern to the HSC and, if acted upon, one that might have prevented the Paddington rail crash. '
11 London Hazards Centre Confidential free advice line for people at work and in the community in the Greater London area 020 7794 5999 website http://www.lhc.org.uk/
12 The Hazards Campaign is a network of resource centres and campaigners on health and safety at work. The Hazards Campaign, c/o Greater Manchester Hazards Centre, 23 New Mount Street, Manchester M4 4DE.
Secretary of the RMT TrainCrew and Shunters Conference
The great train robbery
London Hazards Centre.
RMT Train Drivers' Health and Safety Representative, Waterloo Depot - 1997 to 2000.
A fighting organisation
ASLEF Train Drivers' Health and Safety Representative at Charing Cross Depot - 1992 to 2000.
RMT Council of Executives, 2001-2003.
Glossary of Abbreviations
London Hazards Centre
Greater Manchester Hazards Centre
The Daily Hazard