A railway signalman who dedicated almost half of his life to his profession was sacked for taking a short break.
United Kingdom’s Network Rail sacked Peter Lee when he took a short 20 minutes break after working continuously for a long and tiring six hour shift. Taking a break is not a crime; every employee has a right of taking a short break after working for a specific time while on duty.
However, two managers suspended Lee when he was closing down a signal box at the Arundel station in West Sussex. Lee was later fired, even though he had already informed the management of taking a break— which was his right.
He knew that no one was covering his shift so he let his bosses know beforehand.
On the other hand, Network Rail claimed they already told the signalman about the consequences. “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,” said the company.
“He was therefore disciplined for gross misconduct in failing to follow a reasonable management instruction. His dismissal was later upheld at appeal,” Network Rail added.
According to Lee, four people could have covered Lee’s 20 minute break – but the management refused to use them.
“I started here as a box boy when I was 16 — it's my whole life and it's completely shattered — I'm gutted,” lamented the 60-year-old.
Rail unions are now going on a strike in a bid to get Lee employed again. According to the Working Time Regulations Act 1998 any employee who works over six hours at a time is entitled to a 20-minute rest break.
“The working time directive states that staff are entitled to a meal break. What happened is clearly vindictive,” said Chris Rodway the Rail, Maritime and Train workers (RMT) Sussex Coast branch secretary.
“One of the managers who came along that day was capable of taking over the box but instead used draconian measures against Peter for exercising his legal rights,” he added.
Lee’s supporters also started a petition that now has over 6,300 signatures against Network rail to reemploy the railway signalman.
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