the Disillusioned kid: One from our labour correspondent...
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Saturday, April 12, 2008

One from our labour correspondent...

Conductors on trains to and from Nottingham are being balloted for strike action.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) is balloting around 150 conductors following a dispute over coverage of services on Sundays. The union is urging its members to vote in favour of industrial action. If the union does go on strike, it would affect local services from Nottingham, but not those to London.

The dispute stems from plans by East Midlands Trains to use managers to provide emergency coverage for senior conductors on Sunday services. Senior conductors are responsible for the safety of passengers and the train itself. East Midlands Trains offers a voluntary arrangement for covering Sunday shifts and as they're not prepared to pay any more for people to do this they've struggled to find volunteers and several services have had to be canceled for lack of a senior conductor.

A spokesman for RMT explained, "They proposed to use managers and all sorts to cover the job. That is unsafe in our view. A senior conductor is in charge of a train - not the driver. They are responsible for the safety of the train and customers. There is strict training for them. If there is a problem with Sunday coverage it is because they are not paying enough." The spokesman said that the company had recently introduced ad hoc payments for senior conductors working on Sundays, but claimed that when RMT requested this arrangement be formalised East Midlands Trains instead proposed emergency cover by managers.

RMT are also unhappy about the way the company has attempted to bring the proposal in. The union's General Secretary Bob Crow complained, "The company is acting outside the agreed negotiating machinery and has already poured petrol on the flames by stopping RMT reps being released to undertake normal union duties. We want a negotiated settlement to this dispute, but that will not happen while the company is throwing its weight about."

East Midlands Trains are predictably unhappy about the situation, describing themselves as "very disappointed" about union's decision to ballot its members. Managing director Tim Shoveller said: "We have actually run over 97% of all Sunday services. Under the previous franchise on some Sundays there were as few as 50% of services running because of a shortage of staff. This is a fantastic improvement, achieved through better management and with the flexibility and commitment of our staff. I thank our staff for their continued dedication but we must now find a permanent solution to ensure the reliability of Sunday services. We're confused and disappointed that the RMT do not understand that we must be confident that we can operate our trains every day of the week for passengers. It's not something we can leave to chance."

East Midlands Trains took over the rail franchise, formed from the amalgamation of the former Midland Mainline and the eastern side of Central Trains, in November last year. Legally known as Stagecoach Midland Rail Limited, the company is part of the Stagecoach Group which also owns South West Trains as well as 49% of the Virgin Trains franchise. The group has been criticised for its business practices on a number of occasions. Its co-founder and chairman is Brian Souter a evangelical Christian and outspoken homophobe.

Other coverage: BBC Nottingham | Derby Evening Telegraph | Nottingham Evening Post

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