The work-to-rule by motormen on the South-Eastern section of the Southern Region is due to the dissatisfaction of the men concerned with their present level of earnings and in support of a demand that these should be increased by a bonus payment. Their action is unofficial and they have resisted all appeals from their union officials to return to normal working.
The machinery of negotiation for the railway industry provides means by which claims can be dealt with in a constitutional manner and I earnestly hope that the men concerned will recognise this and accept their union's advice to discontinue their action which is causing serious hardship to very large numbers of travellers in the South-Eastern area of London.
This is a matter which can only be settled through the machinery of the industry, but in view of the very special circumstances I am inviting a representative of the British Railways Board and the general secretary of the union mainly concerned to meet my officers in order that I may be fully informed on all aspects of the present situation.
I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. Does he appreciate, however, that to all intents and purposes this dispute is official, because the action of the men has been endorsed by a full meeting of the branch concerned? As this is so, will not he also invite to the meeting which he proposes to hold the branch secretary of A.S.L.E.F., since, if he wishes to be fully informed about the causes of the dispute he is not going to get full information from the general secretary of A.S.L.E.F., who has failed to represent these men?
Also, in view of the intolerable hardship which is being caused to many of my constituents and to other travellers in the South-Eastern section, will the right hon. Gentleman now issue an appeal directly to the branch concerned to return to normal working pending the holding of these discussions?
I would tell the hon. Member that I can get into enough trouble without following the course that he has suggested. This action is unofficial. Just because one branch of the union takes a certain action, that does not make it official. I would remind the branch concerned that they elected the executive of their union. They elected their officers. They are now unwilling to listen to the advice of that executive and those officers.
It is a most peculiar way of dealing with things, that they now choose to vent their wrath on 200,000 poor travellers to London. Therefore, there is no question of my being concerned in discussions with those leading unofficial action. I am prepared to do all I can and to offer any assistance that I can to ease the situation for the unfortunate travellers. I hope that the men concerned will try to be true to the traditions of the old British Railway drivers and to recognise their responsibilities to the travelling public.
I thank the Minister for the forthright statement that he has made about this strike. Is it not a fact, however, that British Railways have endeavoured to deal with this matter on a local basis, without any success, and that it is undoubtedly a matter of extreme urgency in view of the considerable amount of inconvenience that it is causing to the travelling public?
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider getting this on to a national basis as soon as possible, if that will offer some opportunity of a settlement, in view of the fact that it appears likely to become even more persistent among those railwaymen who are operating trains in heavily congested areas?
I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that this is not a strike. These men are working to rule, and there is a vast difference, so far as the Ministry is concerned. I understand the national implications, however. The House should know that there is already a claim on a national basis, which is being considered within the national machinery.
There are two aspects—the national claim in respect of basic wages, which is shortly to go to the Tribunal and the discussions to follow, on bonus earnings for firemen. I repeat that it will be just as well if the men, in their own interests, and whatever may be the merit of their case—and I do not deny that there may be some—behave properly now in order to have greater rewards afterwards.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance to the House that in the discussions which he is now to have he will do nothing to encourage the impression that unofficial action of this kind is likely to yield dividends in the future?
This is obviously the trouble. I said in my statement that in the exceptional circumstances the Ministry will look at the case as presented by the general secretary of the union and the Railways Board. I cannot interfere further than that.