DOO dis­pute

In the fi­nal in­stal­ment of RAIL’s three-part se­ries on Driver Only Op­er­a­tion, and the long-running in­dus­trial dis­pute that con­tin­ues to sur­round it, PAUL STEPHEN asks if the in­dus­try is any closer to reach­ing a last­ing res­o­lu­tion

Rail (UK) - - Contents -

The fi­nal part of our se­ries on Driver Only Op­er­a­tion con­sid­ers if there is a way to end the long-running dis­pute.

On Oc­to­ber 14, the RMT union con­firmed that fur­ther strike days was planned to take place on South Western Railway from Oc­to­ber 23-27 and on con­sec­u­tive Satur­days un­til Novem­ber 24, over the op­er­a­tor’s plans to in­tro­duce new DOO-com­pat­i­ble stock.

Mean­while, as this is­sue of RAIL went to press, a to­tal of nine days of strike ac­tion had just taken place on North­ern over the same is­sue - on con­sec­u­tive Satur­days be­tween Au­gust 25 and Oc­to­ber 20. RMT union mem­bers protest out­side Water­loo sta­tion on Jan­uary 8. Strike ac­tion was also be­ing taken on the same day by guards on North­ern, Merseyrail, South Western Railway and Greater Anglia, over the ex­ten­sion of Driver Only Op­er­a­tion. ALAMY.

The an­nounce­ment of a fresh wave of strikes will have come as lit­tle sur­prise to staff, pas­sen­gers or man­age­ment, as this sad but fa­mil­iar rit­ual keeps the union’s semi-na­tional anti-Driver Only Op­er­a­tion cam­paign tick­ing over into a 31st month.

It com­menced on April 26 2016 with the RMT’s maiden ac­tion against Govia Thames­link Railway (GTR) on South­ern, and

RAIL read­ers would be hard-pressed to find a break­down in in­dus­trial re­la­tions of this scale or longevity in the long an­nals of trade union his­tory.

In Part 1 of this se­ries ( RAIL 861) we looked at the 36-year-old ori­gins of DOO tech­nol­ogy on the main line net­work, any op­er­a­tional ben­e­fits to be gained by switch­ing door con­trol from guards (also called con­duc­tors) to the driver, and how Bri­tish Rail and pri­vate op­er­a­tors sub­se­quently sought its im­ple­men­ta­tion.

We also heard from union lead­ers on how stiff op­po­si­tion has re­mained a con­stant com­pan­ion through­out, with counter ar­gu­ments on the safety of DOO (also re­ferred to as DCO) and the per­ceived threat of job losses to guards be­com­ing firmly en­trenched.

In Part 2 ( RAIL 862) we learned how three decades of union un­rest boiled over on South­ern in 2016, and then spread to six other op­er­a­tors in a co-or­di­nated RMT cam­paign to block the fur­ther spread of DOO.

With op­er­a­tors only will­ing to com­mit to ros­ter­ing guards on DOO ser­vices while re­serv­ing the right to run trains with­out them in ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances, RMT de­clared war un­less a cast-iron guar­an­tee was made forth­com­ing.

But away from the tech­ni­cal and safety ar­gu­ments over DOO, an ad­di­tional im­passe had also been reached be­tween government sup­port for the ex­ten­sion of DOO and the ex­is­ten­tial threat it now posed to the RMT’s fu­ture bar­gain­ing power.

The union’s vested in­ter­est to deny op­er­a­tors any free­dom to run trains with­out a guard had proven to be an ex­plo­sive mix­ture, when com­bined with the fact that the DOO roll­out in most cases has been di­rectly spec­i­fied by the Depart­ment for Trans­port.

We pick up the dis­pute again at the be­gin­ning of 2018, which did not start too brightly for the RMT. The union had not long suc­cess­fully se­cured guar­an­tees from both ScotRail and Vir­gin Trains East Coast that guards would be re­tained on all ser­vices, but it re­mained of­fi­cially in dis­pute with five other op­er­a­tors: Greater Anglia, South­ern, North­ern, South Western Railway (SWR) and Merseyrail.

2017 had also ended with driv­ers’ union ASLEF ac­cept­ing a con­tro­ver­sial pay deal with South­ern, as part of an agree­ment to op­er­ate some ser­vices in DOO with­out the pres­ence of a sec­ond mem­ber of staff in cer­tain ‘ex­cep­tional’ cir­cum­stances.

RMT had im­me­di­ately pledged to con­tinue the fight, al­though with­out be­ing able to count on ad­di­tional ac­tion be­ing taken by ASLEF, its abil­ity to dis­rupt the op­er­a­tor through strike ac­tion had un­de­ni­ably be­come more lim­ited.

Per­haps more wor­ry­ingly, the deal had also served to em­bolden se­nior ex­ec­u­tives at the four other op­er­a­tors in dis­pute with RMT, and who had pre­vi­ously watched on ner­vously as events un­folded on South­ern.

Not only did the ASLEF agree­ment threaten to se­ri­ously un­der­mine the RMT’s claims that DOO was a fun­da­men­tally un­safe prac­tice, al­most all of the union’s mem­bers em­ployed as guards by South­ern had cho­sen to ac­cept the new cus­tomer ser­vice On Board Su­per­vi­sor (OBS) role be­ing of­fered to them.

And with re­ports of wide­spread cross­ing of picket lines and claims by South­ern that more than 75% of all timetabled ser­vices were now running as nor­mal on strike days, the ef­fec­tive­ness of the RMT’s cam­paign was be­ing brought sharply into ques­tion.

Would the union lose its re­solve to con­tinue the fight over DOO, with the pre­vail­ing mood now shift­ing to­wards a wide­spread

The RMT’s safety ar­gu­ment is a red her­ring. This is not about safety - Bri­tain has the safest ma­jor railway in Europe. This is about our plans for long-term change to the railway, to de­liver last­ing im­prove­ments for our cus­tomers. Paul Plum­mer, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive, Rail De­liv­ery Group


South­ern 377449 and 377307 pass 377325 near West Croy­don on Au­gust 27, with a ser­vice from Ep­som for Lon­don Bridge. RMT re­mains in dis­pute with the op­er­a­tor over DOO, after an in­cred­i­ble 31 months.

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