COUNTY NEWS: Arundel railway worker sacked after 44 years over break entitlement dispute

Protesters at Arundel Station against Peter Lee's (third from right) dismissal SUS-180716-122945001
Protesters at Arundel Station against Peter Lee's (third from right) dismissal SUS-180716-122945001

A long-serving railway signalman said his life has been ‘completely shattered’ after being sacked in a dispute about rest breaks.

Sixty-year-old Peter Lee, from Nimbus Close in Littlehampton, had worked at Arundel Station for 44 years but was dismissed in May for gross misconduct.

“They have taken everything from me,” he said.

“I started here as a box boy when I was 16 – it’s my whole life, and it’s completely shattered.

“I have given them everything and they have just cut it off for want of a rest break.”

The Working Time Regulations Act 1998 states anyone working more than six hours at a time is entitled to a 20-minute rest break.

On Monday, January 8, Mr Lee said he arrived at work to be told his break that Thursday was cancelled as there would be no-one to cover for him.

He said he informed his manager he would still take the break, insisting it was his legal right, and warned surrounding stations to not send any trains through.

“I never got the chance to close the signal box as the managers approached me to suspend me before I could,” said Mr Lee.

“I would never put anyone travelling or working on the railway in any danger.”

He was suspended with full pay until May 18, when he was dismissed.

A spokesman for Network Rail said Mr Lee had closed a signal box ‘at the height of the weekday rush hour’, a claim Mr Lee refutes.

They said: “It is true that he gave notice of this intention, but he was given a direct instruction by management not to do so, was reminded of the agreed process that was in place and advised of the potential consequences.”

“He was therefore disciplined for gross misconduct in failing to follow a reasonable management instruction.

“His dismissal was later upheld at appeal.

“Network Rail has a duty to protect members of the public and staff, together with upholding the operational integrity and safe running of the railway.

“The provision of an additional member of staff for meal break relief at Arundel was agreed collectively with the trade unions following a grievance procedure in 2015.

“The agreement includes a process for financial recompense when a meal break is not able to be provided due to short notice sickness, vacancies etc.

“The signaller is well aware of this process, having received payments as part of the local agreement on more than 20 occasions.

“If a meal break cannot be provided we work around it and agree a course of action with staff.

“This local agreement has generally worked well, the right to a break being balanced with the requirement to continually operate a train service.

“The agreement recognises that if an uninterrupted break is not provided, staff will not close the signal box as this would cause significant disruption to the travelling public, as happened in this case.”

Mr Lee has denied the claim that he received payments as part of the local agreement.

A petition against the dismissal has gained more than 6,300 signatures and Mr Lee conducted a protest at Arundel Station this morning (July 16).

A spokesman from the union for Rail, Maritime and Train workers (RMT) said: “RMT has supported Brother Lee throughout the disciplinary process. We continue to provide him with that support and the union is currently in the process of preparing an industrial action ballot.”