Strikes spread

Rail (UK) - - Contents - Paul Clifton rail@bauer­me­ Con­tribut­ing Writer @PaulCliftonBBC

RMT Union ac­tion over Driver Only Op­er­a­tion spreads to South West­ern Rail­way - the fifth TOC af­fected by strikes.

THE RMT union has an­nounced a new wave of in­dus­trial ac­tion across the coun­try as part of its 20-month bat­tle over the role of guards.

For the first time, train crew at South West­ern Rail­way (SWR) will take part in the strikes, join­ing South­ern, Gatwick Ex­press and Greater Anglia in a 48-hour stop­page on Novem­ber 8/9. Work­ers at Merseyrail and North­ern will stop for 24 hours on Novem­ber 8.

The RMT an­nounce­ment was made on the same day that ASLEF is­sued bal­lot pa­pers to 1,000 driv­ers at South­ern and Gatwick Ex­press. The RMT strikes are timed to co­in­cide with the date of the ASLEF bal­lot re­sult.

ASLEF be­lieves it has reached a deal with South­ern Rail­way to end a dis­pute that has been run­ning since April 2016. The RMT has ap­pealed to ASLEF driv­ers to defy the ad­vice of their own union and re­ject the deal, which would en­dorse lim­ited ex­ten­sion of Driver Only Op­er­a­tion (DOO) in spe­cific “ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances”.

It is an­tic­i­pated that no more than half of the nor­mal SWR trains will be able to run, as ev­ery ser­vice car­ries a guard.

SWR, op­er­ated by First Group and MTR, took over from Stage­coach’s South West Trains in Au­gust af­ter the RMT de­clared a for­mal dis­pute and be­gan a strike bal­lot.

The union says the com­pany has re­fused to give a “cast-iron guar­an­tee” that a sec­ond “safe­ty­crit­i­cal” mem­ber of staff will be re­tained on ev­ery train through­out the du­ra­tion of the com­pany’s ten­ure.

SWR has al­ready guar­an­teed to re­tain a sec­ond mem­ber of staff on ev­ery train and stated that ad­di­tional ser­vices will re­quire more train crew in the fu­ture. It has said there will be no changes to staffing on any ex­ist­ing rolling stock on routes to Portsmouth, Southamp­ton, Wey­mouth and via Sal­is­bury to Ex­eter and Bris­tol.

It has or­dered a fleet of 90 new Bom­bardier trains for sub­ur­ban ser­vices, due for de­liv­ery from 2019. These trains will be ca­pa­ble of Driver Con­trolled Op­er­a­tion.

A spokesman for SWR said: “This ac­tion is pre­ma­ture and un­nec­es­sary. We have not yet made a de­ci­sion on how best to

op­er­ate our new fleet of trains. RMT bosses are not act­ing in the best in­ter­ests of their mem­bers on the ground in SWR, who have said that our re­cent dis­cus­sions have been open and pro­duc­tive.”

On South­ern, these will be the 37th and 38th days of strike ac­tion in the long­est-run­ning in­dus­trial dis­pute on the rail­way. Dur­ing the early strikes, South­ern ran around half of all ser­vices. It said that dur­ing the next wave of in­dus­trial ac­tion al­most all trains would op­er­ate as nor­mal, and that pas­sen­gers will not no­tice any dif­fer­ence to ser­vice lev­els.

In a state­ment South­ern’s par­ent com­pany Govia Thames­link Rail­way, said: “We are very dis­ap­pointed by the union’s con­tin­ued re­fusal to en­gage with us in modernising the rail­way.”

A spokesman for the De­part­ment for Trans­port (DfT) said that the train op­er­a­tor has now met the union more than 25 times to try to re­solve the dis­pute, and the DfT had of­fered to do so nine times. He added that Sec­re­tary of State for Trans­port Chris Grayling had made it clear that he would not meet the unions while they have strike ac­tion planned.

Greater Anglia claimed that it had con­tin­gency plans in place and in­tended to run a full ser­vice. Ser­vice De­liv­ery Di­rec­tor Richard Dean said: “We have guar­an­teed con­duc­tors’ jobs un­til the end of the fran­chise in 2025. We will be re­cruit­ing ad­di­tional con­duc­tors as we are re­plac­ing all of our trains and will run more ser­vices.”

Merseyrail an­nounced that it would do ev­ery­thing in its power to pro­vide as com­pre­hen­sive a ser­vice as pos­si­ble. Deputy Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Andy Heath said: “The union claims to be open to talks, but failed to re­spond to our most re­cent of­fer of a meet­ing.”

Ar­riva Rail North, which op­er­ates North­ern ser­vices, also said it would guar­an­tee jobs and pay for con­duc­tors for the next eight years. Deputy Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Richard Al­lan added: “We re­main avail­able for talks that are mean­ing­ful and clearly-fo­cused on how we de­liver bet­ter cus­tomer ser­vice in the fu­ture.”

RMT Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Mick Cash said: “Ev­ery sin­gle ef­fort that we have made to reach ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ments over safe op­er­a­tion and safe staffing has been kicked back in our faces. RMT is in no doubt that it is the dead hand of the mi­nor­ity Tory govern­ment that is in­ter­fer­ing in these dis­putes with a cen­tral block­ade on talks.”

South West­ern Rail­way is the lat­est op­er­a­tor to be af­fected by in­dus­trial ac­tion, fol­low­ing RMT mem­bers walk­ing out at Greater Anglia, Merseyrail, North­ern and South­ern. On Oc­to­ber 28, SWR 458510 and 458531 (right) pass Barnes with the 1051 Wind­sor & Eton

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