The antiquated practices unions are striking to defend


The antiquated practices unions are striking to defend: How RMT workers ‘refuse to share a van’, won’t use Zoom and restart a lunch break if they bump into a boss who starts a conversation

  • RMT Union organised strike is fighting to save antiquated rules from bygone age
  • The unusual regulations include being able to restart lunch if a boss talks to you
  • Another means nine people could have to be sent to change just one plug
  • So-called Spanish practices also feature 12 minute allowance for 60 secs walk 

Striking unions want to keep a series of bizarre regulations in place including sending nine workers to ‘change a plug socket’ and getting 12 minutes’ pay for 60-second walk.

The antiquated rules – dubbed Spanish practices – also include permission to start their lunchbreak again if a boss starts talking to them.

RMT bosses are so militant they say they do not want workers to use videocalls – and demand managers communicate with staff by regular phone only.

And they say workers should not have to share the same van – meaning two vehicles frequently have to be sent to the same site.

If the extraordinary list of strange regulations sound like they are from another time, that’s because they are.

Some of the rules are said to date back over 100 years and show how little the unions want to embrace any change. 

Huw Merriman MP, chairman of the Commons transport select committee, is responsible for many of the rules becoming public knowledge.

He previously revealed any conversation with the boss class counts as ‘work’.

One of the regulations means that nine people could have to be sent to change just one plug

One of the regulations means that nine people could have to be sent to change just one plug

Some of the unusual regulations include being able to restart lunch if a boss talks to you

Some of the unusual regulations include being able to restart lunch if a boss talks to you

The RMT's Mick Lynch says that the strikes have been a great success so far despite chaos

The RMT’s Mick Lynch says that the strikes have been a great success so far despite chaos

Mr Merriman explained: ‘Imagine your line manager stopping to say ‘Hello’ when you are on a formal break.

‘In the office or on-site, that’s a positive sign of teamwork.

‘Ludicrously, in the rail industry the rule book decrees that the break has to restart from the beginning.’ 

Previously one industry source said resistance to changes was so ‘absurd’ the RMT had blocked staff from using mobile phone apps like Zoom and FaceTime to communicate with each other.

The insider said: ‘We’ve got some utterly arcane practices. We have individual functional teams that don’t cross-collaborate, who won’t even share the same van and who obstruct the introduction of technology.

‘The use of an app is regarded as a matter of negotiation with the RMT, even a communications app.

‘One of the most recent disputes was over managers using FaceTime during Covid to talk to staff because that was a technology that hadn’t been consulted on.’

They also want to stop the introduction of new safety planning tools.

Labour MPs who defied their leader to join rail strikers yesterday have received nearly £900,000 in union funding, analysis reveals. Pictured centre: Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Labour MPs who defied their leader to join rail strikers yesterday have received nearly £900,000 in union funding, analysis reveals. Pictured centre: Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Sir Keir Starmer has told his frontbench they should stay away from picket lines after the RMT launched the biggest rail strike since 1989. Pictured third from right: John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington

Sir Keir Starmer has told his frontbench they should stay away from picket lines after the RMT launched the biggest rail strike since 1989. Pictured third from right: John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington

‘Spanish practices’ RMT is battling to save

Among the ‘Spanish practices’ the RMT is accused of bringing Britain to a halt over include outdated working practices that require nine workers to complete basic tasks such as ‘changing a plug socket’, The Telegraph reports. 

A walking time allowance of 12 minutes for a journey that takes 60 seconds and specialist teams refusing to share vehicles are also among inefficiencies said to be costing billions of pounds to the taxpayer.

An insider told the newspaper: ‘We can’t roster individuals. Let’s imagine you want to change a single socket to a double in your kitchen. Potentially you’d need an electrician, a tiler and a plumber as your dishwasher waste pipe will need adjusting too.

‘Alternatively, you could find a competent odd-jobber to do the whole task. In Network Rail we can’t roster individuals, only teams and we can’t multi-skill those teams so we’d need to send a team of three electricians, three tilers and three plumbers – nine people to do a job one person could do.

‘Eighty per cent of the most common infrastructure faults could be fixed by small, multi-skilled teams.’

Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines described the industry as ‘archaic’ as he slammed ‘poor productivity’ throughout rail. 

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There is also a regulation that prevents a forward-facing camera in a car or van from being turned on.

But the need to roster people in whole teams ‘regardless of the size of the task’ is perhaps the most unusual.

A source told The Telegraph: ‘We can’t roster individuals. Let’s imagine you want to change a single socket to a double in your kitchen. Potentially you’d need an electrician, a tiler and a plumber as your dishwasher waste pipe will need adjusting too.

‘Alternatively, you could find a competent odd-jobber to do the whole task. In Network Rail we can’t roster individuals, only teams and we can’t multi-skill those teams so we’d need to send a team of three electricians, three tilers and three plumbers – nine people to do a job one person could do.

‘Eighty per cent of the most common infrastructure faults could be fixed by small, multi-skilled teams.’

Today is a 24-hour partial reprieve until the strikes resume tomorrow and again on Saturday. While the railway network is meant to be operational, commuters have been hit for the second day running.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) will meet with Network Rail and the train companies today in another attempt to break the deadlock.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said the turnout at picket lines yesterday was ‘fantastic’ and had exceeded expectations in the union’s campaign for job security, defending conditions and a decent pay rise.

The RMT has also been asked by Network Rail to attend formal consultation talks next month on introducing ‘modern working practices’.

Network Rail official Tim Shoveller said the changes will mean ‘dumping outdated working practices and introducing new technology’.

Dominic Raab said the Government had to ‘hold the line’ against the RMT’s demands for improved pay and conditions on the railways.

The Justice Secretary said the strikes were ‘deeply regrettable’ and reform was necessary on the railways.

‘We’ve, of course, got to reform the way the railways operate, given the new ways to working on the effect that has on commuter travel,’ he told LBC Radio. ‘But there are also old practices, which frankly, are well out of date and unnecessary, which need to be reformed.’

He added: ‘I think Network Rail are taking the right approach. We know that the cost of living challenge is there, we know that it affects workers across the board.

‘But the one thing that will keep inflation higher for longer and undermine pay packets for longer is if we have spiralling public sector pay increases beyond what is responsible. And that’s what’s at issue here.

‘It is precisely to protect the wages of those on the lowest incomes that we need to hold the line.’

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