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.”