British Unionists Hounded by Rail Bosses
By Kevin Maguire
Train operators were accused of targeting union activists last night after the biggest commuter train company reinstated a demoted driver following an employment tribunal ruling.
South West Trains (SWT) agreed to give Greg Tucker his old job back nearly two years after downgrading the RMT (Rail Maritime and Transport Union) branch secretary to ticket inspector and halving his £32,000 salary.
It backed down under threat of a huge compensation award when the tribunal ruled that Mr. Tucker, a branch secretary at Waterloo station in London, was unfairly dismissed and had been singled out because of his union record.
Bob Crow, RMTs general secretary, accused rail companies of picking off individuals. More tribunal cases are under way against a number of operators, including Arriva Trains Northern and London Underground. Mr. Crow said: As soon as an activist falls foul of the strict rules and procedures they say gotcha, gotcha and wallop them harder than anyone else. Its happening across the industry.
Mr. Tucker was accused of three offences, including speeding, on the day he returned to work after standing for the Socialist Alliance in the 2001 general election. One of his opponents was Keith Hill, then a minister in the Department of Transport and now Labors deputy chief whip.
Colleagues went on strike over his demotion and Mr. Tucker, who had previously led a number of disputes including one over Sarah Friday, a sacked driver and union activist, claimed he had been stitched up by the company.
The tribunal found the exceptional penalty of demotion was entirely disproportionate for errors considered to be minor inadvertence. The speeding offence lasted barely a minute with no danger to passengers.
Details of the settlement remain confidential, but Mr. Tucker is believed to have been refunded almost two years lost wages, worth about £30,000, plus an additional sum. The tribunal also took the unusual step of awarding the union £40,000 towards its costs.
SWT, part of Stagecoach, the transport group chaired by the evangelical Christian Brian Souter, denied it was anti-union. A spokeswoman said Mr. Tucker had been demoted over safety offenses which the tribunal accepted had taken place. We were disappointed with the outcome of the tribunal, but we had always said we would abide by the decision, she said.
The tribunal was extremely critical of SWT and two of its executives involved in the disciplinary hearings.
The 33-page verdict concluded that assertions by Barry Cook, manager of SWTs Wimbledon depot, were unbelievable and untrue when he insisted that he had not previously heard of Mr. Tucker before holding a disciplinary hearing.
The tribunal said: We found him a deeply unimpressive witness who appeared to give his evidence without regard for truth. The ruling also criticized senior manager, Frank Marsdennow at Arriva Trains Northernwho was then head of SWTs drivers and who upheld Mr. Tuckers demotion on appeal.
The judgment said: We found much of Mr. Marsdens evidence incredible, and some of it risible. He struck us, like Mr. Cook, as a witness with no regard for truth.
Mr. Tucker, retraining as a driver after two years off train controls, admitted he was a thorn in the side of the company and said yesterday: I feel angry that I have suffered two years of stress and lost two years not doing the job I was employed to do.
The tribunal said there was a concerted move to remove me from my position because of my trade union activities. I was totally vindicated. South West Trains have been forced to accept I was wronged.
The Guardian, May 12, 2003