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Letter to the Locomotive Journal (ASLE&F), 15 June 2002
I'm writing to thank all those ASLE&F members who have given help and support over the last few years with the industrial tribunal case I've taken out against Connex South Eastern. The messages of support have been quite overwhelming. It became a marathon task - taking over 2 years to get this far, with the tribunal hearing lasting 2 weeks, over 1400 pages of documents and a wait of 5 months before the final statement of 37 pages was published. The judgement is a clear and powerful indictment of the industrial relations practices of ConnexSE and it's attitude to rail safety. The tribunal statement says that Connex did nothing to make sure 'unsafe practices or situations' were 'made safe,' paying mere 'lip service' to health and safety concerns, and lacked any 'sense of urgency or sense of realism' in tackling health and safety issues. Connex carried out 'a sustained campaign' of victimization against me as a health & safety representative, unfairly constructively dismissing me in breach of Employment laws. One major issue the judgement deals with is the question of excessive drivers' hours and fatigue, with about 17 paragraphs devoted to this one crucial subject.
None of this will come as any surprise to Connex drivers. From the time Connex took over the franchise to the present day, we've had to put up with an attack on 2 main fronts - 1/ the Connex policy of intimidation and victimization, and 2/ the deterioration in our conditions. We realized that an all-time low had been reached when drivers had to work 60 hours, 70 hours, up to 77 hours a week. Drivers fought back against these attacks but we were up against a vicious and heartless company. Unfortunately some have suffered terribly: I've seen drivers who have ended up as physical and mental wrecks.
One response was to get out. Over a third of all drivers in the 'Metro' (London) area, more than 150, just got the hell out of it. Some were sacked. Drivers in the other 2 divisions of the old Southern Region involved in passenger work clearly had similar problems. On the one hand we had 2 very aggressive companies taking over 3 franchises. Faced with this was a weak union organization. Stagecoach and Connex could not believe their luck when faced with officials in the District 1 area who seemed to hand them everything they wanted on a plate. Aggressive employers up against weak and compliant union officials means trouble.
But we always suspected that this weakness went much further than merely giving in to the employer. This became very clear at the tribunal. When dealing with an employer with a history of bullying and victimization, most people would have thought that our union would have pulled out all the stops in bringing about justice. But the case was quite the opposite. 7 witnesses appeared on behalf of Connex. They were not all managers. 2 of the Connex witnesses were ASLE&F officials. To see an ASLE&F company council member trying to justify the actions of Connex was quite sickening. Thankfully, everything he said was challenged both by my representative and by members of the tribunal panel. When a member of the panel has to patiently explain to an ASLE&F official who sits on the Joint Safety Council how the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act operates, you tend to suspect that ASLE&F has lost its way. The tribunal became very clear about this witness. The statement describes him as a 'company man' who became part of the Connex campaign against a Health and Safety rep, and who was 'disingenuous before the Tribunal' in his denial that long hours and fatigue were problems. His failure to show support against victimization was condemned very strongly. There are 24 references to this official in the judgement. I don't know of any tribunal judgement where a union official is condemned so strongly. Any other union would have organized a top-level investigation into this misuse of position.
I cannot emphasize strongly enough the damage that this refusal by ASLE&F to fight on behalf of its members has done. Intimidation is still endemic within Connex. Employees are still suffering. A local branch recently called on ASLE&F to ballot for industrial action because of management bullying. Needless to say this was never carried out.
The ASLE&F leadership has much to answer for. Will it apologize for past mistakes and make a genuine commitment to deal with these rogue companies? Or will it carry on making justifications and excuses? The days of ASLE&F officials jumping into bed with the employer must end.
ASLE&F members can judge for themselves - all the tribunal documents, including the full judgement, are now on-line at the connexnews.com website.
Laurie Holden 15 June 2002
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