Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Binding Arbitration

Image result for listen to the referee

The Sunday Times carried an interesting report at the weekend on the issue of rail safety and railway drivers having responsibility for opening and closing train doors. 

Now the independent rail regulator has approved 'driver only' operation as safe and anyone who has travelled on public transport in different parts of the world would tell you that this dispute is a piece of nonsense.

But what I would is introduce a binding form of pendulum arbitration to settle such issues because there's no point in having an independent regulator if either (or both) sides can simply ignore what the industry 'referee' has to say.

RMT fights trains that might have saved girl

By Mark Hookham - The Sunday Times

Georgia Varley died when she fell from a platform onto the track. A guard was convicted of manslaughter

Leaning with both hands on the side of the train, Georgia Varley turned to look at the guard poking his head out of a door. It was almost 11.30pm and the 16-year-old had been drinking at a house party in Wirral before heading into Liverpool with friends.

The guard, Christopher McGee, gestured for her to stand back but it was too late: he had already sent a signal to the driver to start the train.

Varley toppled down into the gap between the train and the platform and was killed. A year later McGee was convicted of manslaughter and jailed for five years. The judge said he had shown an “appalling disregard” for Varley’s safety and that he had “hoped and assumed” she would step back once the train started to move.

CCTV showing the last moments of Georgia Varley, 16 in 2011

More than five years on from the fatal incident at Liverpool’s James Street station, Merseytravel, the transport authority that oversees the Merseyrail network, is buying new trains that it says will be safer than the existing fleet, which is almost 40 years old, and will “significantly reduce the risk” of such a tragedy happening again.

But despite being described by a rail inspector at a private industry meeting last week as an “exemplar” of safe design, the 52 new driver-only trains, to be built by Swiss company Stadler, are at the centre of a clash with union bosses, raising the prospect of strikes that have crippled services in southern England spreading north.

This is because the driver, not a guard, will operate the doors, something rail unions claim is unsafe but which the rail regulator has approved.


Pendulum Arbitration (13/12/16)

Here's a post from the blog site archive which is particularly topical in light of the latest strike on the Southern rail network which will disrupt services for two days.

I wonder which side would win the argument if this dispute were to be referred to pendulum arbitration?   

The dispute appears to be about whether a driver should open and close the train doors which, at face value anyway, seems a petty issue on which to cause so much disruption to people's lives.  

If you ask me, pendulum arbitration would be a practical solution for the rail network and for other essential public services.


Pendulum Arbitration (5 November 2013)

In the wake of the Grangemouth dispute which ended so disastrously for Unite and the credibility of the trade unions more generally - lots of people have been coming up with suggestions for improving industrial relations such as having workers on the boards of big companies - worker/directors if you like.

Now I've long been in favour of having workers represented on the board which is a feature of industrial relations in other countries, Germany for example, but like lots of good ideas it's not a miracle cure - because disputes like the one that erupted in Grangemouth are unlikely to be resolved at a board meeting.

A much more practical thing to consider would be the widespread use of 'pendulum arbitration' which involves an independent referee (arbitrator) making a decision that comes down in favour of one side or the other - i.e. in favour of either the employer or the trade union.

Employers and trade are often unwilling to use arbitration, especially if they think the stakes are too high, but after the near closure of the giant Grangemouth plant - maybe it is an idea whose time has finally come.

For the life of me, I cannot see any arbitrator siding with Unite over their claims of unfair treatment towards the local union convener, Stephen Deans - because all the employer was doing was investigating allegations that Deans was spending a good deal of his time on Labour Party business - which was clearly wrong.

Yet instead of Unite and Deans putting their hands up - the union called a strike and were willing too play fast and loose with thousands of jobs.  

Fair Dinkum, Cobbers (31 October 2011)

Qantas flights resume after industrial dispute
'Fair dinkum, cobber' - is an Australian saying which no one has ever directed towards me - but means 'fair play to you, mate' - as far as I know.

And that seems to be an apt phrase top use in connection with the Qantas dispute - which seems to have ended - vitually overnight. 

Qantas had grounded all of its flights in an increasingly biiter dispute with its trade unions - whom the company accused of making unreasonable demands.

But instead of dragging things out for months on end - the issues involved were put to an independent arbitration panel - which seems to have ruled in the company's favour and ordered everyone back to work.

Now I don't know much about the independent tribunal involved - but it does seem to have done the trick - by coming down largely in favour of one side or the other - instead of splitting hairs.

If that's what has happened it's called pendulum arbitration - which means just that - choosing between different and sometimes highly polarised arguments.

The advantage being that it encourages both sides in an industrial dispute to behave reasonably - not to exaggerate things.

Otherwise if the dispute is referred to arbitration - then the party that has been rowing its boat out too far is likely to lose.

In the UK we have ACAS - the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service - but this quango does not enjoy the best of reputations and lacks real teeth.

Everyone involved in a industrial dispute in the UK has to agree to ACAS becoming involved - and it has no history of moving quickly to bring in decisive judgments - as the long-running BA dispute being the perfect example.

So maybe our Aussie friends have come up with a good idea - Fair Work Australia is the name of the independent tribunal - which has brought the Qantas dispute to a swift end.

Fair dinkum, cobbers.