This morning, talks between TSSA and Virgin Trains broke down after Virgin Trains refused to commit to observing their own procedures when addressing concerns regarding staff sickness, capability or discipline.
Virgin Trains management, including Patrick McGrath, HR Director, read a pre-prepared statement and then left. The message that they gave us was:
This is going to be a brief meeting. You have misrepresented us. You continue to misrepresent us and until you stop misrepresenting us, there will be no meeting.”
This dispute had been sparked by the summary dismissal and subsequent suspension earlier this year of TSSA workplace rep, Martin Hodges. The company’s own procedures for managing staff weren’t adhered to and the company’s case against Martin hinged on the allegation that Martin was on sick leave for too much of 2010. Yet in 2011, Martin won an award from Virgin Trains for his attendance record!
All TSSA has sought during the course of this dispute is for Virgin Trains management to abide by their own rules, and employment law, in the treatment of their staff. We do not believe that is unreasonable.
TSSA had been led to believe that the company would agree to comply with its own procedures. When Virgin Trains made a commitment to a group of MPs that they would meet with them and us to help bring about a satisfactory resolution, and following a request from the Secretary of State for Transport, we agreed as a gesture of goodwill to call off the ballot for industrial action.
Regrettably, Virgin Trains the next day then announced that they would renege on this commitment, and they cancelled the meeting with MPs and the union.
And at a meeting with senior TSSA representatives this morning, company management showed how little they think of their assurances to MPs that they would work with us for a satisfactory resolution to the issue.
We want Virgin Trains to be as good an employer as it clearly aspires to be, and we value a constructive and on-going dialogue with the company. Their ‘Virgin Vision’ – a set of guidelines for a positive working environment – is a commendable template for employee relations in the railway industry. What we want to see is the Virgin Vision implemented.
It is our view that TSSA has been left with no option than to take up this issue directly with Richard Branson. He is respected around the world for his leadership and business skills, but staff at Virgin Trains are not similarly respected for their substantial contribution to the success of the company. It is high time that they were.
We are asking everyone to show your support for Virgin Trains staff by joining our Facebook campaign page and tweeting @RichardBranson to ask him to treat staff fairly.
Manual Cortes is General Secretary of the Transport and Salaried Staff Association (TSSA)