Let's do the right thing - for future generations

2021-10-01 -
Array, ASLEF
Mick Whelan wearing a suit and ASLEF tie

Mick's Column: October 2021

I keep hearing that the post-summer school holiday figures for those travelling for work or leisure will be key to the shape of future services and we have already seen the scrapping of the proposed East Coast timetable for next year.

I’m not sure this is the right process, given the end of furlough in October, which will determine how many people may be returning to work or, more sadly, not returning when this scheme ends. The other detriment to travel growth, and minimum necessary spending, will be the ending of the £20 uplift in universal credit.

"passengers and staff deserve to be able to travel, and work, in a good, clean, and safe environment"

I don’t care what your politics are – putting 400,000 children into poverty is wrong and the impact on the economy will be demonstrable. At the same  time, the proposal to end the triple lock on the poorest pensions in Europe – on a temporary or other basis – is also counterintuitive. When we add the scam on social care – which unions and employers have universally condemned – and an uplift in National Insurance that impacts on the young and the in-work poor, and may restrict employment, we have a problem.

Dressing it up as money for the NHS, so it will not go to social care, when the NHS should have been funded better and directly anyway, doesn’t help, either.

The rich will not be impacted and will, proportionately, pay less but ordinary people will still be losing their homes and their savings after having paid  their taxes for this protection all their working lives. This will only exacerbate the existing generational inequality debate.

There needs to be a greater debate on whether National Insurance is the right vehicle, going forward, and structural considerations on other income streams should be considered, along with all those companies that do not pay their fair share of tax but still get all the benefits of the workers who are being penalised.

It is time to grow the economy and invest in skills, infrastructure, housing,  and construction. Not, as we have seen recently, existing rail projects being announced again and again and pre-existing upgrades of hospital wards being announced as new hospitals. The future of HS2 into Yorkshire is also under debate – so much for committing to the levelling up agenda.

We are in the middle of conference season. At the Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party conference we have been campaigning hard for no  cuts in rail and for further investment and we will be challenging the  government over COP 26 on whether we, as a nation, are truly committed to doing the right thing, not just now but for future generations.

Changes in government guidance and advice have led the rail industry to seek to move away from training and other processes as they are now. We have not agreed a unilateral return to pre-covid working. In line with the ORR guidance everything has to be re-risk assessed and consulted or negotiated in the forums where it was originally dealt with in the various machineries.

As always, we will see who the good and bad actors are in this process, which has to be better than ALARP – as low as reasonably practicable – which companies traditionally apply.

We are still in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and, finally, have the standard for cleaning cabs and  trains that we should have always enjoyed. There is no reason to alter this now – passengers and staff deserve to be able to travel, and work, in a good, clean, and safe environment.

We are, ourselves, beginning to open up and meet in person, with head  office open once more and I look forward to getting back around the country. I have been to Leeds, Shrewsbury, Liverpool, Glasgow, and Aberdeen in recent weeks, with my diary filling up.

I know the officers, executive committee, and I want to get back to seeing you all in the traditional manner that breeds the unity and solidarity that comes from the open dialogue of which this union can be proud.

Last month I wished my good friend and comrade Nick Whitehead a healthy and happy retirement. He reminded me that his dad was a driver, and his son is a train driver, so the tradition continues. And may I wish Nigel Roebuck well as he took over, officially, as DO4 on Monday 20 September. I also want to offer my personal congratulations to DO6 Dicky Fisher and DO5 Nigel Gibson on their re-election as district organisers and to AGS Simon Weller on his re-election to the general council of the Trades Union Congress, for the tenth year, and to the executive of the TUC as well.

Please be safe colleagues….


Yours fraternally,

Mick Whelan, general secretary