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Network Rail must trust suppliers over staff


Network Rail seems to have shot itself in the foot over its policy to impose a twoyear restriction on the re-employment of its redundant staff. And it is all so unnecessary.

All across the industry I hear people expressing astonishment that it is taking such a line.

Legally it seems incredible that any company can restrict the employment of any individual in an industry. From a human rights point of view, preventing someone from earning a living is questionable. And morally it just doesn't seem right.

Yet I fully appreciate what the policy is trying to do. Network Rail is simply hoping to prevent an employee who does not fit in its business operation from leaving on a Friday with a redundancy cheque and turning up back at the office on Monday working for an agency, a consultant or a contractor.

The theory is that, while there may be a skills shortage in certain areas of the industry - good project managers for example - it does no good to have the wrong skills in your business, whether employed directly or indirectly.

Unfortunately this aspiration appears to have been handled rather badly. Instead of reinforcing the view that it is a client that cares about efficient operations and value for money, a client that cares about quality outcomes and a client that cares about teamwork and putting the right people in the right job, the policy reinforces the exact opposite impression.

Ask around the industry right now and most engineers will tut-tut at how their professional colleagues appear to have been treated.

I say appear to have been treated because I am not jumping to any conclusions about the reasons for anyone leaving Network Rail. Perhaps there was genuinely no role in the business for their skills.

Perhaps there were other more personal or performance related reasons for making particular roles redundant.

We do not know. But does the fact that Network Rail is making such a fuss about keeping these people off the railways imply the latter?

It is a fact of modern employment that shedding people that do not fit your business is a difficult, costly and timeconsuming process. Rightly so.

While there may be no 'jobs for life' any more, individuals need protection from the whims of management. But if people really do not fit, or do not perform, there are steps to take.

However, redundancy programmes are not really the tool for this task. It happens, of course, but in this case Network Rail should be using redundancies primarily to put its own business into the correct shape and size to deliver the massive programme of work ahead.

And the fact that any former employee finds work with another employer - supplier or otherwise - should not be Network Rail's concern. It should certainly provide advice and references, but ultimately it should be down to any new employer to ensure that its employees deliver.

Clients have a right to expect their suppliers to deliver the highest quality service and provide top quality staff to make it happen. But clients must allow suppliers to run their own businesses and employ their own staff, make their own mistakes and reap their own rewards.

Antony Oliver is editor of NCE

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