Today has been a day of dancing and madness at the Delays hovel. And also a day of jaws hitting floors so often that I’ve had to get my handlamp out to scour under the furniture for those that detached and rolled away. Why such expressions of joy? Because London Underground managers have been found to be idiots, conspirators, lawbreakers and such liars that in my very humble and non-legal opinion they came damn near to contempt of court. That’s why.
Those who live in London will be aware that a series of strikes are due to take place across the network in May and June. These follow strikes on individual lines after two drivers were sacked on trumped-up charges. What’s crucial about these cases is that both were union activists and that they were sacked for this. In this country there exist specific laws which prohibit the dismissal of staff for particular reasons. A company cannot sack someone for being the wrong colour or for being female. And also they cannot dismiss someone because of trade union activities or affiliation.
I’m going to mainly discuss the case for which judgement was handed down today, that of Eammon Lynch. There is a second case which I believe is to be heard at tribunal very soon which concerns Arwyn Thomas, a driver on the Northern line. For those interested in the second case, an outline and the decision of the Interim Tribunal can be found here. It is interesting in itself and gives the lie to LUL’s repeated statements to the press which imply that Arwyn is guilty of violent assault. I will just briefly mention that the Interim Tribunal for both drivers decided to order London Underground to treat the men as still employed. As is more fully explained in the linked document, this is not a usual step and is only undertaken when the Interim Tribunal feels that a judgement is likely (51% likelihood or more) to be in favour of the complainant. To have this decision in two separate cases would be very surprising if LUL had acted fairly and within the law.
In Eammon’s case, he messed up. He had a defective train and in order to get it moving he had to cut out some safety equipment which had failed. Now we do this now and again and there are procedures to follow to get the passengers to safety on a station and to get the train dragged out of the way. In this case Eammon followed these procedures but was not allowed to put the train in the depot at the most convenient point. Instead he was instructed to continue driving which is odd but doable had he remembered to get another member of staff to act in place of the safety equipment that was not working. He quickly remembered and stopped to inform the Line Controller who did not seem overly concerned and told him to carry on driving. Which he did with the train empty and travelling at no more than 10mph. For this he certainly deserved some sort of disciplinary interview. Not having a second person has some small potential to cause harm to people on other trains and in such cases a driver will be given some retraining with an instructor over exactly what he should do and he will be given a written warning which is kept on file. This will then be referred to if there are other, similar incidents in future.
Of course, all this relies on the driver admitting his mistake, not trying to cover it up and engaging positively with the disciplinary process. Which Eammon did. However, on his line the managers seemed to be desperate to get rid of a trade union rep and so conspired to sack him. The judge in the tribunal case has made extensive commentary on the fact that a coterie of managers took the dimmest possible view of the incident and worked together to ensure that the person conducting the company investigation should do as they said and not as the rules say.
The judge has also commented on the cover-up which senior managers engaged in so as to exculpate their peers from any disciplinary action. Throughout the incident the Line Controller was fully aware of the situation and instructed Eammon to keep on driving. Now a Line Controller is not God but he is several layers above a driver and he is the person we look to for instructions at all times. The driver is responsible for up to a thousand lives. The Line Controller is in control of the lives of every person on his railway. The clue is there in the job title. Yet despite Eammon being told at his disciplinary interviews that the Line Controller was also in trouble for giving out instructions contrary to our Rulebook, no similar action was taken against him. He’s still there doing his job to this day and apparently none the wiser as to his mistake or how to keep passengers safe. Though I’m not entirely sure that he’s clueless. Evidence was shown at the tribunal that the Line Controller’s emailed account of the incident was at odds with the voice recordings of radio calls and that he was not as blameless as he depicted himself.
Not only was there evasiveness in order to cover up mistakes but there was further storytelling in court. To the extent that the judge has declared one London Underground manager to be an “unreliable witness” and a dissembler. That’s lying and near-enough perjury to you and me. One manager actually tried to invent a new case for the tribunal and had her own earlier statements brought up to show that they flatly contradicted her new story’! That was one of the times my jaw dropped so far I had to go looking for it.
Evidence was also accepted that London Underground’s disciplinary procedures were ignored and that Eammon was treated more harshly specifically because he was a trade union rep. Ironically, he is a Health & Safey rep who brings our concerns about issues to management. But this does not mean that he is infallible and that was the standard LUL chose to judge him by. It was actually mentioned four times at his disciplinary hearing that he should not have made a mistake because of his union role. If I might paraphrase the judge a little, it’s not often a company who is acting illegally is so stupid as to openly state they are doing so in formal documentation. I too have been incredibly surprised at just how much effort was put into victimising this driver.
So what happens now? Well, according to the BBC the RMT (Eammon’s union) has approached London Underground and offered to discuss the situation with a view to Eammon being reinstated and the strikes in May and June called off. Apparently London Underground has refused to talk. There is nothing now to do but to wait for the judge to decide how much London Underground will pay out in damages and whether they are to be ordered to reinstate Eammon. Unfortunately this causes a problem in itself as London Underground can always ignore the latter part. This leads to a strange situation where an employer need only do a cost-benefit analysis to decide whether or not to sack a person because they are a trade unionist, or black, or female, or…you get the picture. To my mind it’s not enough that a company in the wrong be told to make a payment and forget about the whole situation. Being forced to continue to employ the people they have discriminated against is the only realistic way to prevent further abuse of the law.
And where does this leave me? I’m an ASLEF member and so had no say in the strike ballot. In general I feel that striking should be a method of last resort. But in this case I feel it is absolutely the right thing to do. I doubt that London Underground will willingly reinstate those they have discriminated against. I doubt they will even agree to discuss the idea. And in this situation I’m reminded of Martin Neimoller’s famous poem. So first thing Monday morning I shall be approaching an RMT rep and joining that union in order to support the strike and speak out against victimisation. I sincerely hope the strike does not go ahead and that London Underground agrees to behave in a more fitting and legal manner but I doubt it. I’ll end up poorer for it, of course. But this is a case where sacrificing wages is more than balanced out by the potential gains of standing up to bullying, victimisation and illegal activity on the part of London Underground.
The tribunal decision can be read here if you are interested in the details of what was said by the judge.