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The News Line: Feature RAIL FARES SOARING BY 6.2 PER CENT – ‘a massive kicking to commuters’ – says RMT’s Crow
RMT General Secretary Bob Crow with RMT members and commuters at Waterloo Station on Tuesday morning
Rail unions, transport campaigners and passenger groups held a national day of action on Tuesday to protest against massive hikes in rail fares, widespread planned sackings of 20,000 railway staff and a slashing of services which threatens to leave most stations unmanned.

July’s RPI inflation was announced on Tuesday as having hit 3.2%, meaning the Tory-LibDem Coalition’s plan is to hike fares in January by 6.2% – inflation plus 3%.

But even that is not the whole story, with the percentage hike in some fares planned to reach double figures.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said: ‘This is the ConDem government handing out a massive kicking to commuters and is pure electoral suicide.

‘The fare increase tied to these figures represents a massive blow to the travelling public as they see fares rocket by over 6% in January at a time when household budgets are hit by the government’s austerity programmes.

‘People will be rightly angry as they work out what this inflation-busting increase in fares means for them.

‘This money will not be invested back in services; it will be trousered by the greedy train operators as another windfall profit and will fuel RMT’s campaign for renationalisation.’

Following last year’s inflation-busting fare rises, the government announced that train operating companies (TOCs) will be able to increase rail fares by three per cent more than RPI inflation next January.

This will mean price hikes on most rush hour travel, season tickets and off-peak fares on the majority of intercity journeys.

The government has also given TOC’s the power to increase some fares by even more than this, as long as the overall cost of fares stays within the cap.

This could allow operators to charge passengers up to 11 per cent more for train travel from January 2013.

At the same time, the government’s Rail Command Paper has set out proposals for TOCs to shed thousands of station staff, guards, catering staff and ticket offices to slash costs.

The government is asking TOCs and Network Rail to implement cost-cutting proposals in Sir Roy McNulty’s Rail Value for Money Study that could put up to 20,000 jobs at risk in the rail industry.

In a test case for the industry, train operator London Midland has submitted proposals for closures and reductions in operating hours of more than 80 ticket offices on its network, leaving many stations devoid of staff.

Both unions and campaigners fear that the Secretary of State for Transport Justine Greening may give the green light to these proposals shortly.

In addition to causing some of the highest rail fares in Europe, privatisation has doubled the taxpayer subsidy to the rail industry.

In its report Rebuilding Rail, Transport for Quality of Life shows that more than £1bn per year is now incurred in extra costs as a result of the fragmentation, transaction costs, leakages through profits and dividend payments and other on-costs resulting from rail privatisation.

Transport for Quality of Life believes that eliminating these costs through integrating rail under public ownership could equate to an across-the-board fare reduction of 18 per cent.

Tuesday saw the publication of the RPI inflation figure that will be used to calculate rail fare increases from January next year.

Action for Rail, Bring Back British Rail, Campaign for Better Transport and Climate Rush took part in a national day of action including demonstrations at Waterloo Station in London and leafleting and protests at over 40 stations around the country.

TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘These fare rises will add even more pressure to passengers already feeling a massive squeeze on their incomes.

‘The government is asking train operators to make cuts to staff on trains, stations and in ticket offices while continuing to receive public subsidy and give millions in dividends to shareholders.

‘Passengers are being asked to pay more to get less. We want cuts to rail fares, not rail staff.’

ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan said: ‘Rail workers and the travelling public are united in this campaign.

‘Commuters, environmentalists, businessmen, holidaymakers – even motorists! – all have a vested interest in an affordable, accessible and reliable rail service.’

RMT General Secretary Crow said: ‘Passengers will be rightly angry when they find out the full extent of the inflation-busting fare increases imposed on them by government diktat.

‘The idea that this extra money will be invested in the railways is a sick joke; it will simply be trousered by the greedy train operators, same as it always has been since privatisation.

‘The case for renationalising our railways, and throwing the extortionists and rip-off merchants off the tracks, is now overwhelming.

‘The public is sick and tired of being charged through the nose to travel on creaking, overcrowded trains while the rail companies are robbing them blind.

‘The campaign to Bring Back British Rail is an idea whose time has come.’

TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes said: ‘Justine Greening’s cynical predecessor Philip Hammond famously said that rail is now a rich man’s toy.

‘She seems determined to turn that quote into firm reality during her time at the DfT.’

Unite National Officer Julia Long said: ‘Long-suffering commuters already face some of the highest rail fares in Europe, while hard-working rail workers face the sack with thousands of jobs at risk.

‘This government is allowing more hikes in fares but commuters will get a worse service because of staffing cuts.

‘This is disgraceful behaviour at any time but to do this in the middle of a recession is unforgiveable.

‘To make matters worse, the privatised rail companies have been given a series of blank cheques by government to subsidise their operations.

‘There is another way – that is to bring rail back under public ownership to cut fares and improve the service.’

Bring Back British Rail spokesperson Ellie Harrison said: ‘It’s obvious that people are angry and frustrated with the railway system in this country since it was dismantled and sold off in the 1990s, and these extortionate train fare rises will only make this situation worse.

‘We need a radical rethink of the way our railways are run so that passengers can, once again, take priority over profits.’

l The RMT announced on Tuesday that it is organising two protests at south coast ports later this week to raise awareness of the impact on shipping jobs of social dumping and the exploitation of oversees workers by the shipping companies.

The RMT has repeatedly warned that the coalition government’s so-called ‘light touch’ regulations in the Equality Act leave seafarers vulnerable to exploitation on grounds of nationality and increases the scandalous practice of social dumping with Government connivance.

Despite new legislation, trumpeted by the European Union, it has proved to be totally ineffective and massive scope remains for the shipping industry in the UK to continue paying lower wages to seafarers from non-EU countries, and to continue recruiting crew members on that basis.

The specific case of Condor Ferries confirms that shipping companies are not deterred by the new regulations in their fondness for pay discrimination.

By employing Ukrainian seafarers on £2.35 per hour (£28.12 per day for a 12 hour shift) to work 3 weeks on and 1 week off on routes between Portsmouth, Weymouth or Poole and the Channel Islands, Condor Ferries provide the latest example of seafarers being recruited on grounds of their nationality so they can be paid well below minimum wage and how the company can maximise its profits at the expense of Ukrainian and UK seafarers.

RMT General Secretary Crow said: ‘The super-exploitation of foreign nationals in the British shipping industry is a massive scandal that the political elite want to keep quiet.

‘That’s no surprise as it’s their wealthy mates running the shipping companies who benefit from this scam that dodges normal employment regulations while the European Union turns a blind eye.

‘Social dumping is a mechanism seized on by some of the most rotten employers in the book to try and batter down wages and conditions. RMT members and their supporters have the full support of the union for this weeks’ protests in Southampton and Portsmouth.’

RMT National Secretary Steve Todd added: ‘The fight to stop the scandal of social dumping remains a national priority for RMT and we will continue to step up the campaign to turn the spotlight on the shameful practices that this ConDem government continues to legitimise in the British shipping industry.’
 
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