Today Manuel Cortes, TSSA’s General Secretary, has sought to involve the lay representatives and of TSSA in his management team’s war against their own staff. He has sent out an email direct to them putting his position as an employer engaged in a dispute with the union recognised to represent the majority of staff – GMB. This is a gross abuse of his power, as the staff have been given instructions not to discuss this communication with any TSSA member. Manuel wishes to be able to be able to address the whole union with his point of view but not to give the opposing view the right of reply.
What are the headlines?
Over 30 staff are now displaced and have been told they will have to apply for their own jobs. This includes all the organisers and all the support staff.
This re-organisation has now been going on for nearly 11 months, with this being the third set of strike action announced. The last was called simply because the General Secretary had started to refuse to talk to the staff’s union!
The ballot result earlier in the year was a 91% yes vote on a 92% turnout. The unions have a 98% density among the staff. The last staff meeting unanimously voted to strike if commitments about jobs were not met. The staff are strong and they are united.
Shockingly, some of the language of the General Secretary’s message is profoundly anti-union. This is a trade union leader calling industrial action “blackmail”? Does he not think that this will now be thrown in the faces of TSSA reps and organisers by every employer when the TSSA calls industrial action? What impact is his unnecessary war having on the TSSA’s ability to defend its members?
What are the details?
Thankfully it is not as easy as the General Secretary would like to gag his staff. Here is the full reality:
Does the TSSA Executive Committee share the management of the union? The GS’s communication implies that they are on his side in this dispute?
It is probably best you ask EC members whether they support the GS’s actions. What is certain is that the staff and EC members have been regularly told that management of the staff is solely the responsibility of the General Secretary, particularly when questions have been asked about what is going on!
It would seem that Manuel Cortes would like very much to use the EC as a fig leaf when he is asked to answer for his actions as GS, but certainly does not want to involve them fully in decisions on a re-organisation that has had far-reaching effects on the operation and reputation of the TSSA.
Are the GMB targeting a Network Rail event with industrial action?
No. The GMB’s hand was forced when it was realised on Thursday 9 October the GS leaves the country for a week long solidarity visit to Greece. It is the staff’s firm view that Manuel should be held responsible for the decisions he has made and that strike action should take place when he is in the country! Sadly he has a history of being away during major management events – he chose to be on holiday when the announcement was made last November of the re-organisation that was to cut the helpdesk, despatch, education and finance departments. The same re-org we are still discussing to this day.
Have the GMB broken an agreement?
The GS’s communication does go on at length about the “Co-ordination Agreement”. This is a standard procedural agreement that GMB reps at TSSA did renegotiate earlier in the year. However, the GS seems to believe that if a union agrees to a procedure it can never seek additional protection for its members! If the TSSA staff practiced what Manuel is preaching when organising our members it would be the height of negligence!
Does all this matter if no-one’s livelihood is at risk?
Sadly it does. While the staff are obviously pleased to have the safety net of a no compulsory redundancy agreement they are concerned that assessments are designed to target staff whose “faces don’t fit”, isolate and bully them until they feel they have to leave. Staff at TSSA would not accept that if it was TSSA members and don’t accept it for themselves.
The staff are being threatened with being out of substantive roles and put on “development plans” if they are judged not to have the “skills and knowledge” to carry out roles in the new organisation.
None of the roles in question are specialist. They are the generic organiser roles that you see being carried out every day and the support staff who look after membership and finance. None of these roles are changing. We still need the same skills and knowledge to support our members tomorrow as we do today! And most tellingly, the new job descriptions are cut and pasted from the current job descriptions!
The most recent staff meeting returned a unanimous vote to support the position that all staff should be placed in substantive roles and that no one would be left behind to be put through assessments and development plans and be singled out.
This is a position to be proud of. A position that real trade unionists would recognise.
Why aren’t we going to ACAS?
Because the management are not offering conciliation talks to solve the issues in dispute! They want us to just to hand paperwork over to an unnamed person at ACAS who will apparently then decide if staff are fit to be placed in their own jobs! It is not up to ACAS to put officers and staff into jobs. This suggestion has been rejected four times and the reasons why explained directly to Manuel Cortes, yet he keeps wheeling out the same offer. Presumably so he can continue to pretend he is open to a solution.
What will solve the dispute and call off the strike?
A commitment to place everyone in a substantive role and that there will be no assessments.
The GMB do not believe these demands are outlandish, or that they are “blackmail” as the General Secretary calls them. They are the legitimate demands of a trade union supporting its members.
Conceding this would not cost the TSSA any money, and in fact would save a significant amount of staff resources that would be taken up in wasteful assessments.
The union would be more able to move forward straight away – with every member of staff having clarity about their role and to be able to contribute fully. We cannot afford to have staff engaged in work which is not meaningful for TSSA members.
Why then are TSSA Management so intent on not giving all their staff secure jobs?
The staff are those who have contact with the reps and members every day – they work alongside each other, support each other through disputes and difficult personal cases. They develop relationships of trust and the desire to see the union succeed is not for their own personal gain, but because it is important to have a strong TSSA to organise and protect those members and potential members. The decision to go on strike was not an easy one – union members know that it never is – but there is no choice.
Please send messages of support, or direct any queries to the staff’s GMB Branch who can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @GMBX59
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Everyone is also welcome to visit the picket line at TSSA Head Office, Walkden House, 10 Melton Street, London NW1 2EJ from 08.00 on Wednesday 8 October