Happy Holidays, ASLEF

Christmas and New Year are a holiday season. For two days, the 25th and 26th of December, we enjoy an extra weekend, always granted on those days no matter where it falls in the week, so secure that even when those days fall on Saturday and Sunday, you get an extra two days off Monday and Tuesday.

But then, there are essential services, where people have to work – medical staff, care staff, other less visible services. We’d agree – right? – that someone who works on Christmas Day to provide essential services ought be compensated for it, that someone who works on Boxing Day should be earning a bit extra, that even if they’re getting an extra day’s leave to make up for the day they’re working, they ought also to get more pay for working a day when there’s a reduced shift, when most people are getting to relax with their families and friends.

And we’d agree – right? – that short of emergency, there ought to be an element of choice. If someone’s got to work on Christmas Day or Boxing Day, it ought to be because they’ve chosen to give up their holiday in favour of the extra pay. Everyone’s got a right to work, to be treated as a free worker, not as a machine.

(Yes, in Scotland, New Year’s Day and 2nd January are also big holidays which we expect to take off. Hey, it’s the Presbyterian tradition coming out: separate the sacred holiday from the secular holiday. Of course both sets of days are now entirely secular holidays for a significant proportion of Scots, but it’s not as if you’d expect us to give up an extra holiday, would you? Right then.)

Kate Higgins wrote last year:

There are many who work in essential services who have no option but to work over public holidays but for everyone else, the idea of some down/family/me time is surely something that should be fostered and promoted. Supposedly, workers get to choose whether or not to work such public holidays but we all know that the idea of choice can be broadly interpreted. Pressure is brought to bear on many workers, with few feeling they actually do have the option of saying no.

This is not about being puritanical (for once) or trying to drive us back to 1953 (as one wag suggested) but actually to rethink what is important in our lives, our communities and society.

People are what matters, not profits. Many retailers, big and small, are in trouble; the prospect of an extra day or two days’ trading has been too enticing for many to pass over; yet, we all know it will take much more than tills ringing for an extra couple of days to solve the weaknesses in these businesses. If jobs depend on opening on these two days, therein lies your problem.

ASLEF logoSo, what’s wrong with the ASLEF tube drivers going on strike today in London, then?

ASLEF are on strike today in London because the management of London Underground think the train drivers shouldn’t get to choose whether they work on Boxing Day and shouldn’t be paid extra for doing so. And though the management have known this is a major issue for the train drivers for at least three years, ASLEF writes

Last year they said they would begin talks ‘in the first quarter of the year’. They did not open discussions until a few weeks ago. And at those discussions they offered precisely nothing. They have put forward no proposals. Every initiative has come from the union side – and been rejected.

What we are asking for is not complex. We want a volunteer service on Boxing Day with those working getting more than flat time. An enhancement for this day will ensure members will be able to swap duties with someone who wishes to work.

We have also offered to join a Joint Working Party to look at other Bank Holidays and service levels required for the future.

Management has sat on its hands and offered nothing constructive to resolve this dispute, which is why we will take action on Boxing Day.

If you believe you have the right to decide whether to work the holiday for extra pay, you should be supporting ASLEF. If you think your employer should be able to tell you to come in and work on Boxing Day without paying you any extra and without your having a right to refuse, by all means, complain away.

Meantime, consider this:

Train companies don’t own anything, have very little investment behind them, rely on taxpayer money to remain viable and require state bail outs whenever they encounter any problems in the market.

That’s why recent DfT figures show that, taking Network Rail funding into account, nearly every Train Operating Company is a net recipient of public funding. See our press release here for more details.

And it’s why seven, probably soon to be eight, different train companies are currently receiving taxpayer bailouts through the revenue sharing or cap and collar arrangements that ensures that the state will always shore up private train company profits.

This then gets to the heart of the current franchsing crisis.

Private train operation is incompatible with the long term needs of the rail industry. Everyone knows this. Which is why franchising is such a painfully complicated process. The whole process is an artificial way of making it look like train companies are competing in a market that doesn’t really exist. What does it matter at the end of the day what numbers First Group or Virgin put in the tenders when it’s the taxpayer that ultimately funds it all and bears all the risk?

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