Home > Drivers' Restructuring > Letter to the Locomotive Journal October 1997

Letter to the Locomotive Journal (ASLE&F), 23 October 1997 (not published, not answered)

SAFETY NIGHTMARE ON THE SOUTH-EASTERN
You recently published 2 articles trying to justify Drivers' Restructuring on Connex South Eastern (CSE). This would suggest a desperation to stem a very strong tide of dissatisfaction and anger amongst local drivers.

From someone who actually has to drive trains under Restructuring, this is what it means: turns of duty up to 11 hours a day (11 hours including 'passing' back and booking off in our own time); a period of up to 6 hours 10 minutes before or after a PNB; drivers booked up to 77 hours a week (80 hours including 'passing' back and booking off in our own time).

Numerous drivers have had to ask for relief because they cannot keep awake. Drivers have been falling asleep all over the place including at the controller. When you have a situation where a passenger recently had to wake the driver up to get the train moving, then there has to be a problem. In fact so far there have been 2 SPADs directly attributable to Restructuring diagrams. The worse duties are the all-night turns where drivers are working all night, driving throughout the morning rush hour and not getting home to bed much before midday. There are also big problems with the very early turns, i.e. when you have to get up at 2.30-3.00 in the morning, how do you keep awake whilst trying to drive trains at half past 3 in the afternoon? This is no longer a job - it's more like a punishment.

This may sound like the conditions of a pre-war train driver, but this is what drivers about to enter the 21st century have to put up with. We have to remind ourselves that this agreement was brokered by ASLE&F.

It's not surprising that the sickness rate has more than doubled throughout CSE, though at local depots I believe it has more than tripled. Now that DOO P has been imposed in the London area, probably the most congested railway system in the world, the stress of working up to 11 hours a day is taking its toll. Management deal with this spiralling increase in sickness through the increased use of its Managing For Attendance, a.k.a Bullying For Attendance, i.e. threatening drivers with the sack unless they come to work when they are ill.

It's true that we're not driving trains for 77 hours every week. Up to now I have averaged a 45 hour 16 minute week. With the PNBs we have in our own time, 'passing' back and booking off in our own time this works out at 46 hours 34 minutes a week - far in excess of the 37 hour week we were looking forward to. Note that this is 46 hours that we are forced to work - no question of being 'unavailable.'

Are there any benefits? Well at last our employers are talking about sensible rates of pay. But I doubt if anyone will actually be paid the amounts that have been quoted - I was recently sick for 2 days, and was immediately penalized for 120.

The response by management to our obvious concerns was to refuse any consultation with Health & Safety Representatives prior to the introduction of Restructuring, and to refuse to allow us any involvement with monitoring any problems since. The response from ASLE&F has been no better. Letters to the General Secretary from local H & S reps have gone unanswered; ASLE&F refuse to deal with violations of the Safety Critical Regulations and the Workplace Regulations. The campaign to procure acceptance of Restructuring was very dishonest - the Functional Council told us that this was the final offer, that if we rejected it we may lose DOO/mileage payments or have this package imposed. Many drivers were given the impression that DOO P duties would be no longer than 9 hours. Numerous questions went unanswered. I'm surprised that based on this type of dishonest campaign more people didn't vote in favour. 50% voted Yes, 38% voted No, 12% either did not receive ballot papers or didn't vote.

The only person who has shown any interest is Her Majesty's Inspecting Officer of Railways. Whilst Connex South Eastern and ASLE&F have ignored H & S reps, local Railway Inspectors have actually listened to us. In fact the Railway Inspectorate has taken the unprecedented step of sending out questionnaires to every CSE driver requesting information over rostering, turns of duties, safety related incidents, fatigue problems etc.

It must be recognised that this is a very bad, retrograde deal. If we were lorry drivers much of this would be illegal. Instead of entering the 21st century with a set of conditions that match the aspirations that many people have, rewarding us for our level of commitment and skill, we've ended up going back 50 years into the past. The founding members of ASLE&F would be turning in their graves. ASLE&F must stop pretending that there's no problem, it has to pull its head out of the sand and make it a priority to get us out of this mess.

We've had 2 SPADs so far due to Restructuring. Are we waiting for a driver who's been out all night, running into Charing Cross or Cannon Street at 9 or 10 in the morning with a train full of 800 passengers to lose concentration or doze off for just a few seconds? Do we have to spell it out to you? ASLE&F used to be a proud union, one its members used to respect. This is your last chance to prove you're still on our side. You keep on letting us down (on the imposition of DOO P, the increase in assaults/attacks on drivers, cabs like ovens in summer - to name a few.). Don't blow it this time.

L Holden, Drivers' Health & Safety Rep, Charing Cross


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