First Capital Connect cancellations highlight need for staff contingency plans

Employers have been urged to have staffing contingency plans in place in the wake of the First Capital Connect cancelled train services fiasco.

Thousands of rail commuters in south-east England suffered disruption this week as drivers refused to work overtime, causing many services to be cancelled.

The firm had relied on a number of staff to work overtime for many years, but following a row over pay – the company plans to freeze wages this year and offer a minimum 3% rise next year – the drivers are operating a ‘work to rule’ policy.

And cancellations will continue for the forseeable future, as the rail operator has no plans to hire temporary staff to cover the workers.

Sean Rickard, an economist at Cranfield School of Management, said the case highlighted the dangers of relying on employees who work overtime, and said it was essential for management and HR to realise that staff could very easily bring their company to a halt without going on strike.

Services between London and King’s Lynn and Peterborough were cancelled on Sunday 8 November, 50 services were scrapped on Wednesday 11 November, and 200 – half of the Thameslink services on the Brighton to Bedford route – were abandoned on Thursday 12 November.

However, Rickard said the work-to-rule action was probably the result of a number of reasons and described the pay freeze as just the “trigger point”.

He said: “I suspect this [pay] wasn’t the only thing; it was more likely to be last in a line of events. The reality in many firms is the HR department is really behoven to the chief executive and board of directors. If they say there’s no money for any [extra] pay, it’s the HR department that gets the flak. HR is in a difficult position. More often than not they are left to sort out whatever policy has been decided.”

Legally, the firm would be within its rights to hire extra workers. Tom Flanagan, employment partner at Pinsent Masons, said: “First Capital Connect can’t take people on as agency workers in the classic sense, but can employ them directly.”

But the rail operator insisted there were no suitable banks of staff available that had received the appropriate safety training.

A First Capital Connect spokesman added more cancellations were anticipated until a pay agreement was reached with the Aslef union. He said: “This hasn’t been an issue before. We have operated for three-and-a-half years with no such cancellations and performance and punctuality have improved.”

Comments are closed.