UK rail workers fight for pay, win fired worker’s job back

By Pete Clifford
October 23, 2023

MANCHESTER, England — Workers employed by contractors for rail companies around the country are finding ways to fight for equal pay,  improved conditions and union rights.

This occurs as workers at rail companies, members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, have taken 33 days of strike action over the last 15 months. Over the same period, train drivers organized by the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen have taken 12 days of action. Bosses are refusing to offer higher pay unless workers accept job cuts and worse conditions.

Over 100 on-board catering workers organized by the RMT across the north of England and Scotland are preparing for a seventh day of strike action Oct. 13. Employed by contractor Rail Gourmet, they work for TransPennine Express, which imposes worse pay and conditions on contractors. The workers are demanding an hourly wage of 15 pounds ($18.30) and sick pay and other benefits that rail company workers get.

“Since the action began, union membership has shot up. We’ve won part timers and new starts to join the action,” Manchester rail worker Paul Kenyon told the Militant.

RMT member Anne Howie, a train dispatcher for TransPennine Express and employee of Carlisle Support Services at Manchester Piccadilly station, recently won her reinstatement, after TPE bosses summarily threw her out of work for an alleged safety violation, without an investigation or going through the review procedure that workers directly employed by the company would get. Rail bosses call such summary firings of conractors “client removal.”

Over 1,100 people — including many drivers and conductors at the station and around the country — signed a petition demanding Howie’s reinstatement.

“This shows exactly what trade unionism and standing together is all about,” Conor Price, Manchester South RMT branch chair, told the Militant. “‘Client removal’ cannot go unchallenged.” The union won a similar fight last year when fellow Carlisle dispatcher Pete Clifford won reinstatement.

More than 100 ticket checkers hired by Carlisle Support Services at stations operated by Northern Rail are pressing their fight for equal pay and conditions with workers doing the same job who are employed directly by Northern Rail. Carlisle refuses to recognize the RMT union there. A lively picket was held outside Carlisle’s Manchester offices Sept. 22 and further actions are planned.