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500 maintenance staff leave NR

Network Rail has announced that around 500 maintenance employees will be leaving the company by the end of May as a result of what the company claims are "productivity improvements" over the last two years. The job losses form part of its voluntary redundancy programme and are on top of the 235 who left in January.

Network Rail currently employs around 18,000 people to maintain the railway but hopes to increase productivity through improved technology and a newer asset base. It says that a combination of new infrastructure - which needs less maintenance - together with "the elimination of overmanning and outdated working practices" is allowing the company to reduce its employee numbers and costs while still maintaining a safe and efficient railway. NR expects a further 200+ employees to leave the company under the voluntary scheme in the coming months.

Network Rail’s planned changes in maintenance have been scrutinised by the UK’s independent safety regulator, the Office of Rail Regulation. Although it generally supports the proposed changes, a review raised a number of concerns about the way they were being implemented and their potential impact.

Steve Featherstone, Network Rail’s director of maintenance said "New infrastructure, new technology and new ways of working mean we can maintain the railway more safely and efficiently than ever before with fewer people. This is good news for the travelling public. More efficient maintenance means more investment in improving stations, opening new lines and adding capacity to allow more and longer trains. It is also good news for our employees - those who are leaving get a severance package and those who remain for the long-term will be part of a flexible and more skilled workforce who can deliver better value for money. That is the best way to safeguard skilled jobs in the future."

...we can maintain the railway more safely and efficiently than ever before with fewer people...good news for our employees...

The RMT's response to the news was vigorous. General Secretary Bob Crow said that "NR is trying to con the public into believing that a cost-led jobs cull is safe when we already know that inspections and maintenance frequencies are overstretched and that most safety recommendations made after the Grayrigg crash have not been implemented in full or in part. NR knows as well as our skilled members that signalling systems need more maintenance, not less, that there is no widespread introduction of new technology and that the conditions it wants to rip up have been negotiated in recent years."

He went on, "The fact is that NR is under pressure to slash 21 per cent from its budget, wants to axe 1,500 front-line posts, lump maintenance functions onto over-worked signallers, and impose changes that will undermine rail safety and make another disaster inevitable. The only part of NR that needs a jobs cull is the boardroom, whose latest wheeze will result in an increase in the ratio of over-paid executives on telephone-number pay and bonuses to front-line skilled staff, at the direct expense of rail safety. We have tried to talk Network Rail bosses into some sense, but they went running instead to the High Court to overturn a democratic vote for strike action and have played a disgraceful role in refusing to use their powers to save the jobs of another 1,200 Jarvis workers."

The RMT leadership had called a maintenance strike for 6-9th April but abandoned the action when a separate signallers strike was stopped by an injunction. Talks have been held at ACAS in an effort to reach a negotiated settlement. These were adjourned on Monday 19th April but are set to restart on 22nd April. Talks to resolve the dispute with signallers resume today.

Story added 21st April 2010

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