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Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 09:02 GMT
Are rail managers right to take a hard line on strike?
Managers are being drafted in to take the place of guards in an effort to alleviate the latest 48-hour strike.

South West Trains says it will run around a third of its services during the latest round of action by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union.

South West Trains is expected to train further staff so they can help out during future strikes.

The move has prompted a fresh row between the company and the RMT, but SWT's managing director Andrew Haines denies reports that the firm is trying recruit more non-union staff.

Do you feel safe with managers acting as guards? Is this a welcome attempt to give passengers a service? Or is the company holding workers to ransom?

Your questions were put to Rufus Barnes, Director of the London Transport Users Committee, by BBC Correspondent Peter Gould. A video will follow shortly.
Click here to read the transcript.

This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.

Your reaction:

It's doubtful if these idiots from the "ivory towers" of the railways will make a difference but at least they may get an idea of the conditions the guards/conductors work under and may be they would go easy on the mindless discipline that was a contributory factor in one of these disputes. Should they make a mistake who will discipline them?
Bob Baker, Canada

Any attempts to break these strikes, which amount to economic terrorism have my full support. The Government should amend UK legislation to reduce union power and the right to strike. Any rail company, including London Underground should be able to sack the strikers with impunity. Industrial action of this sort should no longer be tolerated. They are an anachronism and a license to be avaricious and destructive.
GY, London, UK

What amazes me is that SW trains have so many managers that they can man one third of the trains

Gill, UK
What amazes me is that SW trains have so many managers that they can man one third of the trains. Perhaps if they spent less money on paying managers and more on the drivers and conductors, there wouldn't have been industrial action in the first place.
Gill, UK

We live in a democratic country, yet the workplace, where we spend most of our lives, is not. Until democracy extends to the control of capital and our workplaces we will see more strikes, as people seek to exercise control over their situation. More power to them.
Andrew Bartlett, UK

This sounds like an extremely dodgy practise from a health & safety perspective. The managers have not been trained as guards, and therefore should not be used for this function. It's strange how the public seem to regard the use of untrained managers to do guards' jobs as a great idea, but they would regard the use of untrained guards as unacceptable. Let's just hope no accidents happen, because if they do, I have a feeling that the health and safety inspectorate will have a field day - I certainly would!
Simon Moore, UK

The whole point Simon Moore is that these people have been trained as guards. Otherwise they would not be allowed to be on the train!
John, UK

I think they should just do away with guards for suburban routes.

Karl Peters, UK
I think they should just do away with guards for suburban routes. Thameslink don't have guards, their services run during the strikes and they usually run on time, which is more than SWT usually achieve in my experience.
Karl Peters, UK

I think it's about time someone took a stand against these unions. Nurses get paid a lot less than the guards and in my opinion do a better job of it, yet you don't see them striking all the time. This has got out of hand and it's time someone did something about it.
Tahir, UK

It's just plain silly for so many people to jump to the conclusion that these managers don't know what they are doing. I am sure that they do, being that they manage the people that usually perform this function, or in some cases, may have previously worked as guards. I don't mean to put the work of guards down, but come on folks, it isn't exactly rocket science. As for the union, they have every right to strike, which means withdrawing labour. The company also has every right to reduce the disruption caused by the strike. I believe that the playing field is a lot flatter than the terrible days of ASLEF and the 1970s.
Neal, USA/UK

I applaud the action taken by South West Trains management. Striking RMT workers would love to see a return to the bad old days when unions could hold the country to ransom. SWT have taken steps to see that this does not happen. I have no sympathy for RMT strikers. Their rate of pay is much better than most public sector workers and they work a standard 35 hour week. SWT should push ahead with it's training program and recruit non-union members where possible to fill the vacancies left by striking workers. By the next strikes, we won't miss the RMT wingers at all. They can stay on strike forever!
Chris Jennings, England

This is not the 1970s and this sort of persistent strike action and disruption is completely pointless. I support the managements efforts to put the passengers first and keep the trains running. They estimate that soon they will have trained sufficient management numbers to run 1000 trains day on SWT during strikes, this is good news. Strikes are a mechanism for disgruntled employees to make a point but this should not be to the detriment of tens of thousands of innocent commuters trying to get to their jobs on time.
Adam, UK

South West trains are to be congratulated for their pragmatic approach to minimising the effects of yet another rail strike. I certainly don't feel less safe travelling with a management guard than with a union one - in fact, having commuted by rail for the last ten years, I've yet to actually see a guard perform any useful role whatsoever.
Peter Preston, UK

They are both as bad as each other. Nobody is working in the interests of the passengers.

Bob, UK
The management are working in the interests of their shareholders and company profit, and the RMT are working on behalf of their members to obtain more money for each of them. They are both as bad as each other. Nobody is working in the interests of the passengers. May I suggest that EVERYONE drives to work, no matter what the chaos on our roads, late arrivals etc. Maybe then this useless government will realise that the train network belongs to the people and find a solution.
Bob, UK

Three cheers for the managers. Nice to see them mucking in and getting their hands dirty for once. We have been held up on overground and tube trains for months on end. People are past caring about the complaints: kettles, uniforms or something as fundamentally important as safety. They have used us as strike material...and abused our goodwill for too long about lesser issues and in the meantime we are supposed to get to work and suffer excruciating problems doing so. Save striking for when you REALLY mean it, not for the whole time. It loses impact. So good for the managers, I am glad to see them doing something... anything. I personally fed up to the back teeth of the whole affair.
m, UK

In an ideal world, trains would run on time, be fast, clean, efficient, safe, and offer excellent value for money. And rail workers would be well-paid, cheerful and never strike. Suffice it to say that public morale is lower even than the unfortunate workers. If we could go on strike, I'm sure we would. And if we did, you bet your life something would be done in double quick time!
Andy Millward, UK

I think rail workers have a basic right to strike, whether or not you agree with their cause.

Marcus Hardy, UK
I think rail workers have a basic right to strike, whether or not you agree with their cause. Using "strike breakers" in this way is surely undermining some aspect of employment rights? Also, it must be morally wrong to use ill-trained staff to fill in. I have no faith in a privatised rail company's pledge that safety has not been compromised. My first reaction to the news was simply that I wouldn't get on a train where managers were being used in place of staff... I would simply fear for my safety. I think this action should be treated as though it were a major breach of safety guidelines, and the companies penalized. This would incidentally restore basic worker's rights, which would be no bad thing. However, the issue of strikebreaking needs serious scrutiny too.

The government have yet to become involved. The last time we saw government involvement was at the mines and on the streets of Wapping, when the government basically declared war on its people. If the government are to become at all involved it should be in a way that redresses the balance. The rail companies are clearly morally bankrupt, and very nearly financially so... workers livelihoods and passenger lives have, are, and will continue to be literally sacrificed to the great god privatisation.

One final point... go to France, Germany, even Spain....all with centrist parties (no extremism there) , and transport is key. It's got nothing to do with who is in power as to whether the trains run on time. All parties in this country should make a commitment to long term spending on infrastructure.
Marcus Hardy, UK

I suffer daily at the hands of the RMT staff who are on strike, and look forward to the elimination of this organisation and its members from this service provider. When they are "at work", the train service is not much better than that provided today. It is about time that the RMT hierarchy woke up and smelt the coffee. The days of getting paid based on other workers worth are long gone. Can the industry afford the level of pay rise demanded, and still keep all the staff employed should be the question being asked. My pay isn't going up this year, but I have a job, and hopefully will have it this time next year. If I demanded an above-inflation pay rise, I may get it, but would I keep my job??
Al, UK

Given that huge numbers of people commute using South West Trains, this rail network forms a vital part of our commercial infrastructure. It should therefore be kept running use any means available - and should not be compromised by the recent resurgence of belligerent unions. The fact that the rail managers have the courage and sense of responsibility to step into the gap and keep the system running might serve as a useful humiliation to the government, which has apparently failed to grasp the fact that our semi-derelict railways are important to this nation's financial survival.
Chris B, England

I think it is a good idea to make the management work on the trains - that way they will see what a disgusting state the railways are in.

DaveyB, London
I think it is a good idea to make the management work on the trains - that way they will see what a disgusting state the railways are in. Maybe when they have to face disgruntled commuters on a daily basis they will have a bit more interest in improving things. What I would suggest is that all the "chiefs", from ministers to middle management, and especially the directors of the privatised rail companies, should be made to work and travel on the trains and underground for a while until they start to sort the mess out!!! Perhaps if government ministers travelled by standard class commuter trains and used the buses and tube they would understand our frustrations a little better.

A final point is that why should workers who have to put up with the conditions on the railways and tube be satisfied with scraps from the masters table when the directors take massive pay rises and bonus/share options each year?
DaveyB, London, UK

I don't think the operating companies deserve our sympathy, but I'm with them on this one. In my experience, guards are generally unfriendly and unhelpful, and have no conception of customer relations. They also earn a lot as it is (drivers earn an incredible amount). I have been studying and practising law for 8 years, and one day I hope to earn as much as they do!
Paul, UK

I don't know how the company is "holding workers to ransom" - it is the workers choice to strike and the managers job to provide a service, sounds like it is the workers holding the company to ransom and that the managers have actually decided to do something about it. I am sure that once the workers realise they can be replaced they will get back to work - so that train users can actually get to work!
Mark, UK

This isn't workers versus passengers; in the end we all want safe and reliable services

Ben Drake, UK
RMT members are right to strike. Our rail network is in crisis, with major investment needed to improve safety and reliability; but neither the train companies nor the government will stump up. Strikes are the only weapon rail workers have to force some action. This isn't workers versus passengers; in the end we all want safe and reliable services rather than subsidised shareholder profits.
Ben Drake, York, UK

Well done managers for trying. If I was in charge I would start sacking the striking workers. I would recommend that every business, shop or service effected stops serving the striking RMT members and see how they like it.
Duncan Cooper, UK

If someone is qualified to be a guard then there is no problem. Just because you label them as "manager" doesn't mean they are not fit for the job. The RMT may moan about it but if these people pass the same qualification as RMT guards have then good luck to them.
John, UK

I use mainline and underground trains to commute to work, and I'm sick and tired of being held to ransom by these train workers. Would these people strike if they served food in a restaurant? No, because customers would quickly go elsewhere and they'd be out of a job. Because they work on an essential service, they go on strike whenever they feel like, to grab as much money as possible from the management. I applaud the train managers for being pro-active and keeping the services running. If these services don't run, I can't get to work and I lose money. Are the striking railwaymen going to subsidise me on the days they strike? I don't think so. And by the way, before I'm accused of being a fat-cat city worker with a huge annual bonus and pay-rise, I work in a library in Central London, and I earn about 19,000 a year, and I didn't get a pay rise at all this year.
Simon K, London, UK

Clearly the company is trying to buy goodwill from its travellers. It won't work. Everybody knows the management know nothing about running a railway which is one of the reasons for its poor service. Trying to substitute the people who are supposedly trained for the job with managers who haven't a clue isn't going to improve public perception of safety.
Phil, UK

I wouldn't care if a monkey was trained to act as a guard

Dominic Hill, UK
I wouldn't care if a monkey was trained to act as a guard. My support for the guards is starting to wane, because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.
Dominic Hill, UK

One of the problems facing the industry appears to be the lack of experienced and qualified personnel with in it. The train companies have downsized and rationalised their work force to a level which is dangerously affecting performance. As the SRA seems unwilling to take effective action, perhaps it is time the unions took a stand. Many of the delays on the network are blamed on the demise of rail track, but Railtrack do not cause trains to be cancelled due to driver shortages.
The industry has attempted numerous schemes to reduce its work force to the level of casual labour. This is affecting performance and safety. I for one applaud the union for taking a stand against the constant erosion of standards. The thought of managers running services shows how far down the road of unsuitable labour the rail industry appears to have gone. I will cheer the Unions on, as it may actually lead to the companies to manage their assets sensibly
Dave P, UK

How safe were the railways anyway before workers started holding passengers to ransom?

Ken, UK
Even though I'm not on an affected line, someone has to provide a service when they can't be bothered and why shouldn't the management go back to the floor?
For the strikers to whine about safety or how many days of an 8-week course the replacements have had is a smokescreen - how safe were the railways anyway before workers started holding passengers to ransom? The first LU and rail strikes were over safety. Then pay and conditions. Now it's about whatever the hell they want this week. Now if only Transport for London would do the same for the tube...
Ken, UK

I agree that the companies concerned should take a hard line with the railway unions - however the government should also provide the necessary environment to stop these strikes from affecting the travelling public. The problem is that as the Labour party receives its funds from the unions they cannot take the necessary steps to enforce the public's right to not be affected by strikers.
Martina, UK

This is a bold and courageous bid on the part of the management to help the paying customer out, and hopefully it will prove to be one in the eye for these bone idle guards. Let's be honest, a guards' job is not rocket science is it? You need very few qualifications and have virtually no responsibility. If they want to be paid what train drivers get, let them retrain as Drivers and take some responsibility. If all they want to do is punch holes in tickets, make unintelligible announcements over the tannoy, and blow a whistle after they have sullenly slammed some doors shut, we should continue to pay them accordingly.
Shaun, Teignmouth UK

See also:

27 Jan 02 | England
Rail bosses to become guards
31 Jan 02 | UK
Second day of rail gloom
24 Jan 02 | England
Guards aim for striking impact
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