On top of financial hardship faced by all, Virgin Trains workers also have to worry about the Richard Branson’s insidious ‘fire-at-will’ culture.
The recession is hitting hard – unemployment is high and there is widespread fear among Britain’s workers about their own jobs.
But at Virgin Trains, workers also have to worry about the company’s insidious culture of ‘fire-at-will’.
Martin Hodges is just the latest to be told his face suddenly doesn’t fit at Virgin Trains:
“I believed Virgin was a company where I could feel a sense of belonging. I thought, ‘I really can make a difference here’.
“At first, everything seemed great, but I began to notice that the management were not really listening to legitimate concerns raised by the staff.
“So I decided to stand as a TSSA rep to support my colleagues and gain a voice. With the union behind me, I persuaded management to change their policy and gained confidence as a rep.”
In January, Martin was unexpectedly called into a private meeting with HR:
“I was taken into a room and told that my communication style was unacceptable and that managers did not like that I questioned their decisions.”
They then dismissed him on the spot.
• Exposed: Richard Branson the cuddly union-buster 20 Dec 2011
After TSSA intervened, that was rescinded to suspension pending an investigation. What that investigation has so far hinged upon is the allegation that Martin was on sick leave for too much of 2010. Yet in 2011, Martin won an award from Virgin Trains for his attendance record!
Martin’s case isn’t unique; this has happened at Virgin Trains before, making it in effect an unwritten policy. It is illegal and against their own stated procedures to fire at will.
We are now balloting our members at Virgin Trains for industrial action. Our position is clear. If the company has genuine concerns about an employee’s performance, they should use their proper policies rather than taking action outside of the law and their own procedures.
Earlier this year, Left Foot Forward revealed how Richard Branson had personally weighed in against a union bid for recognition at Virgin Atlantic. Richard Branson is a respected businessman and humanitarian, but respect must also now be shown to all of Virgin’s employees.
Virgin Trains’ own guidelines speak proudly of their commitments to their staff, but increasingly this rings hollow if their employees cannot enjoy their work without the constant fear of dismissal on the whim of management.
Now morale in the company is suffering, and that isn’t good for anyone. Passengers, already hit by high fares and a poor service record at Virgin, deserve staff who are well-motivated and happy. If Virgin agrees to fair treatment of all staff and commit to follow its own procedures, this dispute will be called off immediately.