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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: GEORGE MUIR, Assoc Train Operating Companies and VERNON HINCE, RMT Union JANUARY 6TH, 2002
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
DAVID FROST: Now talks aimed at trying to resolve a bitter dispute between the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union and South West Trains have so far failed to break the deadlock this weekend. Yesterday, for instance, they thrashed through the issues, we're told, for nine hours and today they plan on meeting again. In fact, the first meeting of the day is right now because if they aren't able to come to some sort of agreement then hundreds of thousands of commuters will be affected by strikes again tomorrow and Tuesday. Vernon Hince, the acting general secretary RMT, is here with us, and George Muir, head of the Association of Train Operating Companies, who joins me now. Let me start with you, first question if I may George. Is this dispute just simply the fault of the union or is there faults on both sides?
GEORGE MUIR: I don't know the exact details of the dispute but it's, what I do know is, that it is disrupting 150 - 200,000 passengers and I find it very depressing because it does seem like a throwback to the old days.
DAVID FROST: To the Scargill days?
GEORGE MUIR: Well whatever the old days are. What I think we've got to - what we've got to work out, in the industry, with all our colleagues in the industry, including Vernon who I know very well, is how do we, how do we evolve towards a modern industrial relations with modern relationships with unions. Because in other industries, other industries can operate satisfactorily with relations with unions which don't lead to strikes that are inconveniencing passengers. And so the kind of discussion I want to have is how do we evolve towards this kind of modern responsible relationship with, with all the unions in the industry. And I do rather expect that that's what the RMT leadership want, want to work on too. The challenge is modern industrial relations.
DAVID FROST: Now in terms of the RMT, what is it, why did the talks fail yesterday? Nine hours was it?
VERNON HINCE: Something like that, yes.
DAVID FROST: And why did they fail, what is it that the other side have got to do to satisfy you - they may not do it, I'm not saying they will do it, but what do you want that you haven't got now?
VERNON HINCE: We want equality and fairness for our members as against that of the drivers - that's what we've argued all the way through. Our members of course - what we're talking about here is the pay increase that should have been awarded on April 1st - last year, not this year - and since then we've seen other groups of staff get two pay increases. But, going back to the point that George is making, the problem is - and I don't know whether you, you mentioned Scargill days and everything else, but, you know, I can remember the industry, I've worked in the industry all my life, and we've never had the disruption that we've got at the present time. And what is happening is, of course, is there is this competition between the various companies, and between internally to the companies, of leapfrogging of salaries, rates of pay, to make sure that they operate the services, rather than getting on and having a joined up railway that brings about the whole benefit for passengers and for the staff as well.
DAVID FROST: Well The Times felt very strongly about this, it says this year the ostensible pretext for SWT is pay but the RMT's decision - South West Trains - but the RMT's decision to strike follows SWT's proposal to award union members who are not drivers an above inflation rise of 7.6 per cent over the next 18 months, despite the fact that a scarcity exists in drivers who have special skills. What do you say to that?
VERNON HINCE: Well that is the point that I was making, that really they're into the marketplace syndrome rather than looking at it nationally, we now finish up with each company competing - whether it's the drivers, for engineering staff or whatever - they're now competing with each other and so you've got this leapfrogging effect that has left all the other staff - the engineers, the station staff, the booking office staff, the revenue protection, the supervisors and the managers - left behind. And all we're asking for really is fairness. We can't get this while we've got the state of the industry on the train operating side where we, in actual fact, negotiate with 26 different companies.
DAVID FROST: But at the same time they say that this dispute, Vernon, is caused largely by the RMT's anger that one of its leading activists, a former Socialist & Alliance parliamentary candidate, Greg Tucker, was demoted from his job as a driver after his poor record was compounded by being caught speeding. Calling a strike to defend a worker who was comprising his company's safety record is worse than folly, it is madness.
VERNON HINCE: Well that is absolutely ridiculous, and this is the point that we've been trying to get over. There are two distinct legal ballots, one is on pay, which includes everybody bar drivers. The other one, which is in fact abuse of the system - not for one individual but several individuals, which they've acknowledged - and that was on drivers and guards. We legally cannot join them. What has happened here is in fact South West Trains have joined them by saying we can't give you anything on pay until we've settled the other dispute. We are not allowed to do that - we would be in the High Court tomorrow if we did.
DAVID FROST: What do you say George, to what you've just heard?
GEORGE MUIR: I find the reasons for the strike affecting 200,000 people quite unconvincing. I think the idea that over fairly, over issues like this you can stop train services serving London, quite unacceptable. We've got to find a way to have, to have the kind of relationships we have in other industries, and this thing has got to stop. It's a culture that must be stopped now and I think the RMT leadership has a role to play in changing the culture of unionism in, in this particular aspect of the railway. Other industries can do it, we've got to do it in the railways.
DAVID FROST: And what's the situation about Monday and Tuesday, Vernon, will there be - if there's no settlement today, will there be a strike on Monday and Tuesday?
VERNON HINCE: There still is at the present time, yes. But can I just make one other point as well you see. We've referred back to the bad old days, but then we had one employer, the BRB, and in those days we all used to sit round one table to negotiate. Today we don't do that, we do it with hundreds of different companies and this is what has fermented a lot of the anger that our members now feel.
DAVID FROST: And what about the other point that's come up this week, George, that there are some fares that are about to go up, we're told, by 17 per cent. How is that defensible with inflation rates at the level they are?
GEORGE MUIR: Very few fares are going up as you indicate. For most passengers, fares are frozen, cut or are going up by very small amounts. The main story today about fares is of, is of fares being frozen, cut or small amounts. There are always exceptions, it's a huge industry with a vast range of fares so there are always exceptions that people can find where there is a double digit increase, but the overall story is, as I said, of frozen, cut or very small increases.
DAVID FROST: And do you think today, Vernon, that you can find a deal today, or would you predict that commuters watching this right now have got to face up to the fact that there will be strike tomorrow and Tuesday?
VERNON HINCE: I went into talks yesterday morning - well I've been in over Christmas, been over the New Year - I went in yesterday morning hoping to have resolved this following contact with the chairman of South West Trains. That wasn't to be yesterday, I am hopeful that we can do it today but at the present time, as we stand, I'm afraid it looks very dismal for tomorrow and Tuesday.
DAVID FROST: Thank you both very much indeed. Thank you.
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