BEFORE becoming the the Canal & River Trust (CART), British Waterways shed 11% of its bank-side staff writes Allan Richards.
In the two years from 1st April 2010, British Waterways reduced its bank-side staff headcount by almost 60 from 532 to 473 in England & Wales.
The unions Unison and Unite have argued for three years that a move to the charitable sector would cost members jobs. A year-old press release by UNITE states:
'We also oppose clearly stated plans to substitute experienced staff with volunteers. Despite assurances from British Waterways Chief Executive, Robin Evans, to the contrary, this is already happening around the network and is totally unacceptable'.
CART has given no explanation for the drop in staff numbers but maintains that volunteers and, in particular, volunteer lock keepers have not replaced bank-side staff.
A Freedom of Information request asked how many bank-side staff were trained in lock operation with British Waterways first claiming it did not know because a single training course did not exist due to differences in locks across the system. It added that staff learnt by a shadowing process and later confirmed that no formal training existed.
Further questioning has determined that British Waterways has just 131 staff proficient in lock operation. The proficiency is measured by local assessment and recorded in personnel records.
Lock keeper redundancies
In recent years, British Waterways is believed to have made its few remaining full time lock keepers redundant. In particular, numerous press reports related the story of Atherstone's lock keeper, Tony Wright, who was made redundant despite opposition from local residents and boaters. The locks are now operated by volunteers.
[The locks are not listed by CART of those that are manned by volunteers, but narrowboatworld contributors have told us that they have been helped through the flight by volunteers.]
Tony, who was very active in promoting the waterways locally, was awarded the MBE for services to the waterways in 2005. However, he was made redundant just as British Waterways started to increase its use of volunteer lock keepers.
CART is refusing to give dates and locations for lock keepers it has made redundant in recent years claiming an exemption under the Freedom of Information Act that the information represents personal data.
(A check carried out at the Hatton Flight on the afternoon of Saturday 14th July found some 82 visitors at the top end of the flight and three boats in the top six locks. However, no sign could be found of the two volunteer lock keepers who normally man this flight.)