Government has priorities wrong

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A UNION official says the government has the wrong priorities in the row over threatened redundancies on the island’s railways

Unite regional industrial organiser Steve Salter says the job losses could compromise not just safety but the very future of the island’s historic railway network.

At a meeting on Tuesday, he said 40 members of staff had expressed concern over the handling of the matter. They had no confidence in either Community Culture and Leisure Minister David Cretney or transport director Ian Longworth.

He told the Manx Independent: ‘This government quite clearly is facing financial difficulties yet its priorities are all wrong. The government can find £2m to prop an eyesore in Ramsey Bay (Queen’s Pier), another £40m on sewage treatment, tens of thousands of pounds for a pointless inquiry into a path on Langness, yet it can’t put the money into protecting what is one of the island’s most important tourist attractions.

‘If the maintenance of the railway’s rolling stock is neglected by the loss of these skilled jobs we could lose a very important part of our island’s heritage.’

Mr Salter said there were still many unanswered questions, not least, why the group chosen for redundancy comprised skilled workers.

He added he believed the government would need to use private contractors for the work.

Initial suggestions suggested 22 workers could face redundancy. So far, compulsory redundancy letters have been issued to six, said Mr Salter, although the government says compulsory redundancies have so far been kept to five.

The jobs affected relate to maintaining rolling stock on both the steam and electric railways. Those identified include blacksmiths, painters, signwriters and coach builders who maintain the 100-year-old carriages.

Mr Salter said the government had failed to inform those potentially affected at the earliest opportunity, nor had any retraining opportunities been offered.

The proposals come as the Department of Community Culture and Leisure is faced with making cuts to its budget of more than £800,000 this year.

Mr Cretney said all staff had been told by letter at the start of the year and had received regular updates on the situation.

The redundancies were part of a three-year plan put in place before he took on his current role and said all workers had been informed as soon as possible.

The department expected to achieve its target through retirements and resignations and it only became obvious more stringent measures would be needed at the end of last year, he said.

There were no plans to outsource work, he said, adding changes to working practice should result in stricter maintenance of the track and better safety.

‘In the current climate of reduced government income, to ignore the need to reduce the subsidy of over £2.5m would have been not only unfair on the people of the island but also would have made it far more likely that others would call the future of the railways into question,’ he said.

‘Twenty-two positions were originally identified and after much work with trade unions the figure has been reduced to five. However we are faced with the stark economic reality and my department must play its part to protect front line services in health, education and community safety.’

North Douglas MHK Bill Henderson is to raise questions in Tynwald over staff retraining and request a review of how the situation has been handled.

At present no industrial action is planned over the railway redundancies but Mr Salter added: ‘We have only a narrow window of opportunity to find a solution. We do still want to talk to the government.’

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