Guest post by Merle Stotten
This is the first of a series of articles about the TSSA. Part Two will appear online on Thursday, 28th November.
Part One: Bosses Stay, Workers Go.
On 13th November the TSSA trade union’s senior management team announced an organisational ‘restructuring’ under which over one in three jobs – 22.5 posts out of the current complement of 63.5 – is to be axed.
This plan to slash jobs by over a third was in marked contrast to a statement issued to TSSA staff and members by the union’s General Secretary less than two months earlier, following the collapse of merger talks with Unite:
“Your Executive Committee has agreed to undertake a wide-ranging review … to ensure that we continue to function in a way that safeguards your future. We currently have an ongoing operating deficit, (but) we also have significant assets to ensure that your livelihoods continue to be protected.”
Ironically, one of the reasons for the collapse of the merger talks given by the General Secretary in his statement was that if the merger had gone ahead as envisaged by Unite, then it “would have undoubtedly led to a significant reduction in staff headcount.”
But “a significant reduction in staff headcount” is precisely what lies at the core of the restructuring document. The goal of the planned restructuring is to reduce salary costs from the over 98% of membership income (2012 figure) to around 60% of membership income:
“This is not a reorganisation designed to take advantage of new-found opportunities, merger, diversification, growth, specialisation, integration or any other adjective commonly used to justify organisational change.”
The fact that the document had been produced by a senior management team that could not even tell the difference between a noun and an adjective was the least of its failings.
A GMB newsletter – the GMB is the union recognised by the TSSA for collective bargaining on behalf of its employees – summed up the double standards at the heart of the proposed re-structuring:
“The financial difficulties in which TSSA now finds itself are significantly the result of decisions made by senior management over the last few years. Yet it is other staff who are being made to pay the price for these failures.”
“Higher grades are more likely to be protected, and lower grades more likely to have their jobs cut or relocated.”
“Grades 1-3 have been slashed by nearly 50%, with an additional impact due to changes of location. Grades 4-5 are cut by around a third, with a significant further impact because of location changes. This is in addition to the proposal to downgrade all grade 5 Organiser posts.”
“By comparison, amongst senior grades there is only one proposed post cut, with the new structure having three Assistant General Secretaries for 41 staff and 22,000 members.”
For several years past TSSA has suffered from a growing disconnect between income and expenditure. As the 2012 Annual Report put it: “For well over ten years the TSSA has incurred a series of operating deficits – its membership income was somewhat less than its day-to-day operating costs.”
Somewhat less than???
In 2012 alone, income decreased by over £100,000, while expenditure increased by nearly £850,000 (an increase of 15% compared with 2011). The resulting deficit over income amounted to over £2.5 millions – equal to 66% of total membership income for the year.
This was even worse than the previous year, when the deficit over income had been £1.6 millions (equal to 40% of membership income).
During 2012 the balance in the TSSA’s Central Fund fell for the fifth year in a row, by over £1 million (compared with a decrease of just over £800,000 in 2011). The same year membership declined by 1,920 – a fall of around 8%. Compared with 2011, the number of new members recruited by the TSSA slumped by nearly 25%.
To plug the gap between income and expenditure, TSSA management has resorted to selling off the ‘family silver’. In 2011 sales from its investments portfolio amounted to well over £1 million. In 2012 TSSA sold off just over £2 millions worth of its investments portfolio.
But while membership of TSSA has slumped in recent years – in fact, membership has been in ongoing decline since its peak of 91,500 in 1952 – the organisation’s staffing complement has been on an upwards trajectory.
In 2005 TSSA membership stood at 31,356, and its staffing complement amounted to 48 FTE posts. But now TSSA membership is just 22,007 – a decline of some 30% in eight years – while its staffing complement numbers 63.5 FTE posts – an increase of around 30%.
(Despite having only a fraction more than 22,000 members, the TSSA claims in public to have 30,000 members. According to the home page of its website: “We have 30,000 members in the UK and Ireland, working for the railways and associated companies.”)
In 2011 TSSA staffing costs increased by £274,361 compared with the previous year. The Annual Report explained: “This increase reflects the full costs of additions to the staffing establishment to deliver better protection to members at a time of job threats and public transport cutbacks.”
The 2012 year-on-year increase in staffing costs was even bigger: £672,570. The explanation given in the Annual Report was eerily familiar: “This increase reflects the full costs of changes to the staffing establishment to deliver better protection to members at a time of job threats and public transport cutbacks.”
Thus, while the TSSA’s overall income (from membership dues, investments, and the renting out of office space in London) plummeted, its staffing costs were exploding as senior management created more posts, especially at the top of TSSA pay-scales: in 2012 alone, the number of grade 7 posts jumped from two to five
Just as the GMB newsletter was correct to identify “decisions made by senior management over the last few years” as a prime reason for the TSSA’s financial plight, so too it was right to emphasise that the staffing cuts would hit first and foremost the lower-paid and lower-graded.
The payroll and the purchase ledger functions in the union’s Finance Department are to be outsourced (at a cost of three full-time jobs). So too are Despatch (two part-time jobs) and the Helpdesk (two full-time and two part-time jobs).
In Business Support two differently graded posts are being merged into one (at the lower rate of pay). The Reception in the TSSA’s head office is being shut down, at a cost of two part-time posts.
One part-time post in Human Resources is being scrapped, and so too is the full-time post of Building and Facilities Manager. Responsibility for reps’ education is to be transferred to the National Organiser (of the organising team) and the full-time post of Education Officer will be scrapped.
The 29 posts of Senior Regional Organiser (grade 5), Senior Community Organiser (grade 5), Regional Organiser, Industrial Organiser and Community Organiser are to be replaced by the generic post of Organiser (grade 4), of which there will be 23.
The TSSA office in Derby is to be closed. Its office in Manchester is to be closed and sub-let. The Bristol office is to be sub-let and its staff will re-locate to smaller offices elsewhere in the city.
The closure of two of the TSSA’s seven offices means that some particularly cumbersome ‘constituencies’ have been created for the remaining offices.
The Glasgow office, for example, is to cover Scotland, Northern Ireland and Cumbria. The York office will cover Yorkshire, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Staffordshire, Cheshire, North Wales, Lincolnshire, and Cambridgeshire as far as Peterborough.
Without spelling them out, the document refers to “significant changes to TSSA conference and the Executive Committee” and to “efficiencies and costs savings” which are to be made “in our democratic structures and the services that we provide to members.”
The frequency of the TSSA journal – which currently appears in hard-copy six times a year, and electronically the other six months – is also to be reduced: “The Executive Committee is also expected [on what basis?] to agree to a significant reduction in the number of issues of the TSSA journal.”
The reasons given in the restructuring document for how posts have been selected for redundancy (i.e. targeting the lower paid and lower graded) and why selected offices are to be closed are singularly unconvincing.
In fact, the reasons often contradict what TSSA management was saying just a few months ago in reports and statements issued by the union.
To justify outsourcing the Helpdesk, the restructuring document claims that it “ties up not insignificant resources”, that it receives only a “gradually falling number of calls”, and that attempts to make it “more of an organising tool” have “met with limited success.”
But a 2010 TSSA report on the Helpdesk boasted:
“Helpdesk staff are employment law specialists and trade union officers with a wealth of knowledge and experience in representation and negotiation who can advise on a wide range of employment issues. Over 90% of enquiries are dealt with by Helpdesk staff. Only 6% are referred on to TSSA reps and just under 4% to full-time officers.”
And the TSSA’s “Activities Report for 2012”, published in early 2013, also had only praise for the Helpdesk.
It “responded to hundreds of enquiries every week.” Its staff had “years of trade union experience, a wide range of expertise, and up-to-date knowledge of employment law.” And it had a success rate of dealing with “over 90% of enquiries received.”
In fact, in the Heads of Agreement with Unite for the merger-that-never-was the TSSA insisted on maintenance of the Helpdesk: “The Helpdesk facility operated by TSSA will be maintained for a minimum period of time to be agreed which may, after consideration, be extended.”
(And if attempts to make the Helpdesk “more of an organising tool” had met with only “limited success”, was this a reflection on the Helpdesk itself – or on the Assistant General Secretary who took over management responsibilities for it in September 2012?)
The restructuring document justifies scrapping the post of Education Officer on the basis that “designing, developing and delivering appropriate learning materials for TSSA activists and reps can be outsourced with significant efficiencies in terms of our ability to run courses and in terms of costs.”
But such an argument sits uneasily alongside of the praise previously heaped on the work undertaken by the Education Officer in developing in-house education for TSSA reps.
According to the TSSA’s “Activities Report for 2010”: “The continued growth of TSSA courses and the growing awareness of the training on offer to reps turned around several years of decline.”
The “Activities Report for 2012” was equally enthusiastic: ““We aim to become even stronger. That is why we will continue investing in training and development for our activists and reps.”
And the TSSA’s 2012/2013 “Education and Organising Programme” was positively ecstatic: “TSSA offers the best in-house education of any trade union, specifically designed to enable reps to better represent their members by the use of the best tutors and best teaching methods.”
In justifying the closure of the Manchester and Derby offices, and moving the Bristol office to smaller premises, the restructuring document argues:
“Derby and Bristol are too large for our needs, and consequently too expensive. We will no longer require an office in Manchester (because) the small number of companies in north west England can be readily organised from our offices in York and Glasgow.”
But the leases for the “too large and too expensive” offices now due to be closed were only recently signed by the TSSA!
The ten-year lease on its Bristol offices (1,682 square feet, at £10 per square foot) was signed by the TSSA in June of 2011. The offices in Derby have been occupied by the TSSA only since late 2011/early 2012. And it was as recently as spring of this year that TSSA moved into its Manchester offices.
The closures proposed in the restructuring document also contradict commitments given in the TSSA’s Annual Report for 2012, published in early 2013: “We continue to invest in our network of regional offices to bring services closer to members and our North West office will relocate to Central Manchester.”
And whereas the TSSA’s “Activities Report for 2012” emphasized that “greater use continued to be made of regional offices for training,” the restructuring document has announced: “We will no longer be able to deliver member training events within any of our offices.”
Even the cut in the frequency of appearance of the humble TSSA journal is at odds with the importance previously attached to the magazine. According to the union’s “Activities Report for 2012”:
“The TSSA Journal continued to be key to the TSSA’s communications in terms of our ability to inform, organise, motivate, empower and energise TSSA activists and members. The journal continues to showcase member-led campaigns and organising experiences.”
But when it comes to dealing with senior management posts, the restructuring document exhibits a very different approach. As the most recent GMB newsletter puts it:
“Over the last few years the TSSA senior management has overseen the frittering away of thousands and thousands of pounds. … We overspend on a daily basis because there are no effective budget controls in place, despite our auditors recommending we have them.”
“The management team that increased the status and pay of their own roles is now seeking to put the majority of our support staff on the scrap heap and to downgrade and devalue the role of those staff who carry out the face-to-face work with our members.”
“Under their proposed new structure there are fewer staff to manage, (average ten staff per AGS), yet the senior management team have also ruled out any job evaluation of their own roles.”
Apart from one Assistant General Secretary (AGS) post (of which the TSSA currently has four) senior managers escape from the restructuring unscathed.
The General Secretary’s post and rate of pay (£90,000 a year, including pensions contributions) is safe. So too are the rates of pay for the AGSs and for the National Organiser of the organising team.
In fact, under the restructuring three new posts of Support Worker are to be created, to provide clerical support for the hard-working AGSs and National Organiser!
And whereas the restructuring document effortlessly conjures up reasons to axe lower-graded jobs, it fails to assess the AGSs against the criteria which supposedly justified their creation in 2012:
“These changes (the creation of the AGS posts) will speed up the process of moving TSSA closer towards becoming the organising union we need to be, with members at the heart of every decision.”
(But the AGSs have certainly made some key decisions since their appointment – such as whether letters should be sent out first or second class. According to a TSSA “Staff Bulletin” circulated in February of this year:
“We are no longer using the first class (postal) service. … Anyone who still feels they need a first class service (for mailings) will be asked to obtain authorisation from their relevant AGS. This authorisation will need to come directly from the AGS via e-mail.”)
The restructuring document exhibits the same indifference to evaluating the role played by the union’s General Secretary, even though a 2012 TSSA document (“Changing to Win”) argued:
“The election of our current General Secretary is the first example of a front-line organiser reaching the top of a union. There is therefore a great deal of responsibility placed on his shoulders to show that organising, strategically implemented and properly resourced, can deliver.”
But what has been delivered some fifteen months later? Only a succession of failed merger talks and a document proposing to do away with a third of the organisation’s jobs.
The GMB in the TSSA has not only condemned the substance of the restructuring. It has also savaged TSSA management for the procedures it has followed (or failed to follow) in its dealings with the GMB in relation to the proposed restructuring.
Despite an agreement with the GMB that all TSSA employees would be e-mailed the details of the re-structuring at the same time, selected employees were given advance notice and advance briefings about the proposals.
According to the GMB, TSSA management has acted “in bad faith” and agreements have been “breached by TSSA management.” The latter has “failed to honour its word” and has also failed to “engage in meaningful consultation” about implementation of the restructuring.
Given that TSSA senior management has “indicated that they do not intend to engage in any further discussion” about implementation of the proposed restructuring, the GMB has now sought legal advice.
But the GMB’s exposure of the double-standards at the heart of the restructuring proposals and its attacks on management’s failure to act in good faith leave unanswered the basic question of why the restructuring is being proposed only now.
After all, the critical financial situation faced by the TSSA is not only nothing new. It is also a state of affairs facilitated by “decisions made by senior management over the last few years.” So why have the restructuring proposals appeared only now?
The cynical – but not necessarily wrong – answer to that question is that senior management was prepared to see expenditure outstrip income and to build up an increasingly unsustainable staffing structure because they calculated that another union would pick up the tab after merging with the TSSA.
In late 2011/early 2012 TSSA engaged in talks with the RMT about a possible merger. The talks collapsed, without the TSSA (or the RMT) ever having clarified the reasons for the collapse.
The TSSA’s “Activities Report for 2012” said no more than that the talks “did not reach a positive conclusion. After months of discussions it became clear that significant differences remained and that further talks would not be of benefit at this time.”
Differences about whether to support the Labour Party were certainly a factor. But a report on the webpage of the Edinburgh RMT branch also reported that financial issues played a part:
“It was reported that TSSA were looking to get 2.5 times annual salary for any TSSA official who failed to get elected (in a merged union) if members did not vote them into office.”
“It’s rumoured that TSSA’s starting point was ten times annual salary. No wonder they’re skint, and what an attitude to the money that ultimately we the members pay in subs.”
In late 2012 TSSA began talks with the very right-wing and Progress-supporting Community trade union about a possible merger. Within the TSSA, Community was criticised for shortcomings in internal democracy. At the same time, it was seen as a credible partner for a merger as it was “asset-rich” (sic).
The talks hardly ever got off the ground and have since been effectively written out of history. The TSSA’s “Activities Report for 2012” referred to no more than “preliminary discussions with one trade union of a similar size to the TSSA.”
Between May and September of this year TSSA participated in talks with Unite. But this smacked of desperation.
There had been a logic to merger with the RMT, given that both unions are predominantly railways-based. There had even been a logic, of sorts, to merger with Community, in that the two unions were roughly the same size and both were living off their historical assets.
Unite, on the other hand, is not a predominantly rail union. And its size (1.4 million members) put it in a different league from TSSA (22,000 members).
But as far as TSSA management was concerned, it would be fair to assume, the size and resources of Unite would allow it to pick up the tab for the TSSA’s dire financial situation and unsustainable staffing structure – especially the higher echelons of that structure.
In the event, talks with Unite quickly came to an end. By all accounts, Unite was unimpressed by the TSSA’s overstaffing, by its top-heavy management structure, and by its demand that it should have its own ‘stand-alone’ section in Unite.
Echoing the Edinburgh RMT branch’s comments of 2012, members of Unite’s Executive Council have also reported that TSSA wanted 10 times annual salary for any of its employees who failed to find, or did not want, a post in the merged organisation.
But once the talks with Unite had collapsed, and any possibility of merger was thereby off the table at least for the time being, the TSSA senior management team had to confront head-on the disastrous spending deficit which had been allowed to fester for years.
Their answer to that deficit was the restructuring document published in mid-November, according to which those who had presided over the deficit would be left untouched while the rest of the workforce would see workplace closures, job losses and pay cuts.
Apart from staff who now risk losing their jobs as a result of the proposed restructuring, the biggest losers are TSSA members themselves. As the most recent GMB newsletter puts it:
“We have been presented with an ill-thought-out back-of-a-fag-packet proposal which would lead to a top-heavy organisation unfit for purpose, that is: working with our members to represent and campaign for their interests in the workplace.”
When the TSSA Executive Council (EC) meets in early December it should vote down the restructuring document and establish a committee of enquiry consisting of EC members, nominees from the GMB, and nominees from the TUC.
That committee should then carry out a no-holds-barred investigation, covering the past 18 months, in order make to findings and recommendations regarding:
- The prolonged lack of action to deal with the TSSA’s financial problems; the creation of new posts, especially at a senior level; the procedures followed in filling vacancies; the effectiveness of lay-member control over TSSA management.
- Allegations by TSSA members, ex-members, employees and ex-employees of bullying; the way in which grievances and disciplinaries have been dealt with; and the real reasons for successive failures to achieve merger with another union.
TSSA Annual Report 2011:
TSSA Annual Report 2012: Contained in:
TSSA Activities Report for 2012: