From the TUC

The Today Programme’s dodgy #SouthernStrike maths

08 Aug 2016, By

This morning’s Today Programme on Radio 4 covered the industrial dispute at Southern Rail. Justin Webb talked live to his correspondent Ben Thompson at Victoria station (Listen at 47:38), who expressed concern that the 5 day strike over guards’ safety concerns would not be legal under planned new government restrictions:

“Earlier in the year there were new rules brought into force that would limit strike action if it didn’t get overwhelming backing from union members. There are 80,000 members of the RMT union, and yet just 393 of them voted for strike action today.

Clearly that ballot took place in April, before the new rules were brought into force in May, but clearly Govia Thameslink and Southern Rail say they are unhappy that it has got to this stage, because with a vote of just 393 members it would not have been permitted under the new rules.”

With this, the Today Progamme seem to be showing a similarly tenuous grasp of maths as the politicians who originally proposed the new strike regulations.

So, to make things a little simpler for the nation’s flagship current affairs radio programme:

The RMT are a trade union. They represent 82,256 people. However, not all of those members actually work for Southern Rail as guards. As well as guards, station staff and other roles in Southern Rail, all other rail operators and London Underground, that 82,256 also covers RMT members working in shipping, road transport and offshore oil. If Southern Rail had 82,256 guards, it might explain some of the fare hikes that passengers are currently (and rightly) so annoyed about. But they don’t.

The number of RMT members working as guards for Southern Rail is 393 (not 82,256).

393 members were balloted as to whether they wanted to take strike action. Of those, 321 returned a vote. Of those who voted, 306 voted yes.

Ben Thompson was correct that the strike qualified under the old rules. Well done.

But the new rules, which will include a special double hurdle for workers in ‘important public services’ (40% of those eligible voting yes, on a turnout of more than 50%) would also sanction the strike.

The turnout was 81% (more than 50%), and the yes vote was 77% (more than 40%).

So RMT members didn’t fail the new balloting rules, they smashed them.

Given unions are restricted to only using postal voting for strike ballots (a method proven to depress turnouts) a 77% total yes vote shows that the workers affected are very very concerned about this issue.

Despite what the Today Programme think, Southern guards aren’t taking this strike lightly. Nobody likes to go strike – it’s confrontational, difficult and you lose pay and damage working relationships. But staff can be pushed to use this final resort tactic, when an employer will not listen to concerns on an unjust decision.

Striking guards want a safe and accessible rail service, with proper staffing levels to provide a decent service. It’s what the travelling public want too.

5 Responses to The Today Programme’s dodgy #SouthernStrike maths

  1. Andy Jenkinson
    Aug 9th 2016, 6:27 pm

    The more people who complain to the BBC about inaccuracy and bias the better. They will deny everything but that is no reason to make life easy for them. When they reject your complaint and your appeal go public on the internet with your complaint and their replies and expose them for the biased and inaccurate organisation which they have become. The Governors of the BBC act as judge and jury for the behaviour of the BBC and fail to uphold standards.

  2. Mike Trodd
    Aug 10th 2016, 8:25 am

    ‘No cctv camera can hear a cry for help!

    I just hope that history will record that the RMT members tried their level best to protect public safety and that of their co-workers.
    Good luck RMT I for one will never forget your efforts.

  3. bob andrews
    Aug 10th 2016, 1:36 pm

    I wonder why wheelchair users have to give 48hours notice of intent to travel under southerns new system , do commuters have to also give notice otherwise they are discriminating against wheelchair users

  4. Mike walsh
    Aug 14th 2016, 1:01 am

    Following this article I decided to complain please read below the response!

    Dear Mr Tebbit
    Reference CAS-3959526-LJGSTW
    Thanks for contacting us regarding BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme broadcast on 8 August.
    I understand you felt it was inaccurate for Ben Thompson to state the strike ballot would fail under new rules.
    Having reviewed the report, Ben Thompson refers to how there are 80,000 members of the RMT union but only 393 voted for that day’s strike action. Ben adds that the ballot occurred in April 2016, a month before new rules were brought into force, where if there was not “overwhelming backing from union members” a strike could not happen. Ben puts into context that if the ballot had taken place in May 2016, then under the new rules the strike would not have been allowed to take place. The comments from Ben taking into context the new rules were accurate.
    We have circulated your complaint to senior management and the ‘Today’ programme in this overnight report.
    These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the BBC and ensures that your complaint has been seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future programmes.
    Thanks once again for taking the time to contact us.
    Kind regards
    Neil Salt
    BBC Complaints Team
    NB This is sent from an outgoing account only which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this email address but if necessary please contact us via our webform quoting any case number we provided.

  5. John Wood

    John Wood
    Aug 15th 2016, 1:31 pm

    Groan! Thanks for that Mike. Looks like some parts of the Beeb still aren’t with the programme. We’ll have a word and double check they aren’t still saying that to people (and importantly they have a think before commenting on air next time).