Union News 30th of October 2023

Welcome to Union News giving you reports from the trade union and labour movement in the UK. Reporting is by the Solidarity union news team and music is by Tim Bragg.

RMT Union Chief Warns of “Great Betrayal” as Ticket Office Closures Looms

Mick Lynch, the RMT union chief, has expressed concern about plans to close nearly every station ticket office in England. Travel Focus and London TravelWatch are set to present their viewpoints on this matter by October 31. Lynch highlighted that around 750,000 passengers responded to the consultation, with 98% opposing the closures. He urged watchdogs and ministers to heed passengers’ concerns and abandon job-cut plans for the sake of passenger advice, accessibility, and safety.

RMT Accuses Trainline App of Prioritizing Profit Over Affordable Train Fares

The RMT union has accused the Trainline ticketing app of prioritizing profit over offering the cheapest train fares for journeys. The app is expected to generate £200 million from British ticket sales this year and has expressed support for government plans to close ticket offices, which the union views as a profit-driven approach. RMT’s general secretary, Mick Lynch, criticizes private companies in the rail industry for profiting while the government advocates for ticket office closures. The union believes that a portion of Trainline’s revenue could be better used to properly fund the railways instead of supporting cost-cutting measures associated with ticket office closures. The Trainline app defends its approach, claiming that its search rankings are based on departure times, fastest journeys with minimal changes, and affordability. The app charges a 5% commission on ticket sales, and its CEO’s remuneration increased nearly 9% in 2023. A Trainline spokesman asserts that the app balances price and convenience when suggesting journeys to customers, and all retailers receive the same flat commission rate for online ticket sales within the industry.

Firefighter Leaders Demand Restoration of Fire Service Funding to 2010 Levels

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is urging the government to restore fire and rescue service funding to 2010 levels in order to better address increasing floods and disasters. The FBU, affiliated with the Labour Party, calls for a reversal of 13 years of Tory austerity, which has led to the closure of fire stations, reduction in appliances, and a 20% cut in firefighter jobs. The FBU recently reported a situation in which delayed response due to cost-cutting measures resulted in the loss of homes. The FBU is set to launch a firefighters’ manifesto outlining their vision for the future of fire and rescue services. General Secretary Matt Wrack stressed the need for Labour’s shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, to restore funding to prevent communities from being “failed by another generation of politicians.” Wrack also emphasized the importance of addressing the damage caused by austerity and the urgent need to improve response times and firefighter resources. He called for funding restoration to be a priority in Labour’s first term in office, as signalled by recent by-election results.

Second Cost of Living Payment 2023/24

The government is helping a little with the cost of living for 2023/24. The Cost of Living payment is £900 paid in three instalments across the year:
First payment of £301 was paid during Spring 2023
Second instalment of £300 will be paid during Autumn 2023
Third instalment of £299 will be paid by Spring 2024
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced the dates for the second instalment of £300. This amount will be paid to households entitled to certain benefits during qualifying periods.

Most qualified people will be paid between 31 October and 19 November 2023. Payments will be made automatically.

and finally, UK Government’s Plan for Minimum Service Levels in Schools Sparks Union Criticism

The UK government is poised to implement minimum service levels (MSLs) in schools and colleges, a move criticized by education unions as an attack on the democratic freedoms of school leaders and teachers. Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has invited union leaders to discuss the MSL proposals voluntarily, but she has made it clear that the government will utilize powers granted through the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act if no voluntary agreement is reached. This would trigger a consultation involving various MSL models for education, allowing input from parents, teachers, and other stakeholders.

Pat Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity union, voiced his concerns, saying, “The introduction of Minimum Service Levels is a worrying development that threatens the fundamental right to strike. It is essential that democratic freedoms are upheld in any regulations governing MSLs. The government must prioritize constructive dialogue and engagement with unions to address the root causes of industrial action.”

The proposed measures have drawn strong opposition from education unions, who argue that MSLs infringe on the right to strike. The government’s history of dealing with issues related to education, such as pay, workload, and recruitment and retention, has raised concerns among unions. The unions contend that a focus on improving working conditions and addressing longstanding issues in education is crucial.

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