‘THIS IS nothing short of a scandal and reinforces the demand for nationalisation of our rail,’ the RMT union said on Monday.
The train union was reacting angrily to the news that the South West Trains franchise has been awarded to Chinese state company MTR, which operates the Hong Kong Metro. The Tory government announced the sale of the train network to the Chinese state on Monday.
MTR along with First Group will now run the franchise for the next seven years. Rail union RMT said MTR, which will hold a 30% share, ‘is set to make a killing at the British taxpayers’ expense’.
General Secretary Mick Cash said: ‘Once again the government have refused to consider the public sector option for a major rail franchise and instead it’s a foreign state operator, in this case the Chinese state.
‘It is frankly ludicrous that the Tories are continuing with the ‘any state but the British state’ policy which has plundered our railways for over two decades. ‘RMT is deeply concerned at exactly what this announcement will mean for our members, these crucial rail services and the safety of the travelling public.
‘We will be seeking an early meeting with the new owners to secure cast iron guarantees on the jobs and role of the guards, the future of the wider workforce and the safety and quality of passenger services.’
After the shock South West Trains announcement RMT went on to reveal that 75% of UK rail is now owned by foreign state companies. RMT said: ‘With the news that the South West Trains franchise is to be awarded to First MTR (MTR being owned by the Chinese state through the Hong Kong government) the union has produced new research showing the growing domination of foreign companies over the UK’s railways. Of the 28 private rail contracts 21 or 75% are partially or wholly owned by foreign states or their railways.’
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: ‘The announcement that the Chinese state will hold a major chunk of South West Trains, coming just two months after the Italian government took over C2C, means that three quarters of UK railways are now wholly or partly controlled by foreign states or foreign companies with the profits shipped out of Britain to subsidise transport services around the globe. That is nothing short of a scandal and reinforces the demand for nationalisation of our rail assets for the benefit of the British passenger and taxpayer.’
In a letter to RMT members Cash wrote: ‘Many of you will have seen the announcement made today that Stagecoach Group has lost its bid to continue their South West Trains Franchise. A consortium of First and MTR have been awarded the franchise which is due to commence in Summer 2017. MTR is owned by the Chinese State through the Hong Kong Government.
‘We are obviously deeply concerned at the impact this will have on you and your colleagues and have sought urgent meetings with South West Trains and First MTR. We will be seeking to secure cast iron guarantees over jobs, the role of the guard, terms and conditions as well as the safety and quality of passenger services. The National Executive will shortly be considering the matter and I will keep members fully informed of developments.
Meanwhile, RMT is seeking a meeting with the Liverpool Mayor over the continuing battle with Merseyrail over their attempt to remove the guards from the trains. RMT General Secretary Mick Cash has written to Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson in response to a major intervention by the Mayor into the dispute at the weekend. This included a written request by the Mayor for the RMT to call off the strike set to take place on 8th April.
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said in his letter that he is calling for an intervention by the Mayor to break the current impasse. Cash has also highlighted again the enormous profits Dutch state-owned Merseyrail are making – sums of money that would easily cover the cost of retaining guards on the trains. In his letter to Joe Anderson Cash says:
‘…there is an opportunity for both having modern new trains and keeping a guard on the train yet the company have refused point blank to agree to this. It seems that the company position is that the new trains will be paid for by passengers losing their guards and our members losing their jobs while the company lose nothing, instead carrying on making a huge profit – with much of these profits going to Dutch state owned Abellio.
‘I would like to know as Mayor of Liverpool what exactly you plan to do to assist in resolving this dispute. The people of Liverpool, and our members, will also want to know whether you are going to side with the private operators SERCO and Dutch state owned Abellio, who own Merseyrail, or with the passengers and the unions who wish to keep the guarantee of a guard on their trains.’
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: ‘Joe Anderson has chosen to wade into our dispute with Merseyrail and that intervention opens up an opportunity for the Mayor to get actively involved in helping us to negotiate a solution.
‘RMT stands ready to engage in that process and we now expect the Mayor to use his offices to bring the parties back together and broker a new talks process that homes in on the core issues of safety and finance at the core of this dispute.’
• Scotland’s railways should be brought back into public ownership ‘lock stock and barrel’, union leaders have demanded. Last month representatives from Aslef, the train drivers’ union, and the Transport Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) spoke out in favour of a motion at the Scottish Labour conference calling for the railways to be ‘publicly owned’.
The motion, put forward by Aslef, hit out at the Scottish government’s ‘ongoing failure to effectively enforce the terms of the ScotRail contract’. lt went on to demand a Labour campaign for Dutch firm Abellio’s franchise to be cancelled ‘with immediate effect’.
It was passed by activists at the conference in Perth after trade union leaders accused Abellio of ‘hiving off’ £16 million from the subsidy they receive to run ScotRail. Kevin Lindsay, Aslef organiser in Scotland, said the transport firm received ‘£293 million of our money in subsidy’ but added: ‘They then hive off £16 million a year and brag about it as they invest it in the Dutch railways. I’ve got to say to the Dutch government and Abellio well done. To the Scottish Government, I say to you, hang your head in shame.’
He continued: ‘The reality is Abellio is milking us, why do we allow them to send £16 million back to Holland? Where could we spend that £16 million? Could we freeze our rail fares, could we make better facilities in our railway stations? Or could we reduce business rates properly for small businesses? These are the decisions we could make if we bring the railways back in-house.’
Stephen Lawrence of the TSSA demanded: ‘It’s now time to ensure Scotland’s public transport system, in particular our railways, are run in the interests of passengers, that they are run in the interests of the Scottish people and the ordinary Scottish worker is being put first.
‘This means we must end the scandal of foreign state- owned companies, such as Dutch state operator Abellio, having free reign to maximise their profits at the expense of Scottish passengers and taxpayers.’
He added: ‘I would like to see a rail company owned lock, stock and barrel by the Scottish people, running our railways efficiently, effectively, on time with workers and passengers having a real voice in how it is run, with every single penny of profit kept in Scotland and reinvested in the network and with fares kept at an affordable level.
‘We should take back the keys from Abellio as soon as is feasibly possible and begin work right away on planning and modelling a new public operator to take charge. Even the Scottish government have begun to realise that a different future for Scotland’s railways is possible.’