Is the RMT industrial dispute over?
MEMBERS of the RMT, Britain’s biggest rail union staged a protest outside London Waterloo on Monday (August 21) over new Surrey rail operator South Western Railway’s (SWR) ‘refusal’ to clarify whether it will guarantee a second member of staff on its trains.
The dispute has worrying echoes of the union’s clash with Southern Rail.
Southern, the RMT union (largely representing train guards) and the ASLEF union (largely representing train drivers) were at loggerheads for much of 2016 and into 2017 over staffing, plunging the network into strike chaos for some 18 months.
The RMT fears driver-only operation (DOO) will be rolled out more widely, putting trains in all but complete control of the driver and sacrificing what they describe as the ‘safety critical’ role of guards.
The ASLEF union, meanwhile, has highlighted its own DOO safety concerns from the perspective of its drivers. SWR, owned by First Group and Hong Kong-based MTR, has insisted there will be a second member of staff on trains.
The unions cite a South West Trains pledge that DOO would not be extended – a pledge they say will carry over to SWR.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “There is an agreement in place there will be no extension of driver-only operation on South West Trains and that agreement transfers with the undertaking to First/MTR.
“All that RMT is seeking is a clear assurance that there will be no interference with the current agreement and that it will be honoured by the new franchise holder.
“Unfortunately in talks with First/MTR the company refused to give a guarantee that there will be a second person on their trains despite what they have been telling the press.
“They also failed to clarify what safety competencies and role a second member of staff would have on their services. Monday morning’s demonstration will be the kick-off point for RMT’s campaign to keep the guard on South West Trains.”
An SWR statement meanwhile said: “We know a second member of staff provides assurance to our passengers on trains and ensures we have capable colleagues on board to deliver assistance during the journey for anyone that needs help or advice while travelling on our trains.
“This is why we will always plan to retain two people on our services. During our franchise, we will increase the number of drivers and guards so we can deliver more services for our customers.
“We are looking to create a secure environment and meaningful career progression for our employees and we have significant plans to invest in learning and development, which we are looking forward to discussing with our employees.
“We will discuss the role of our guards with our staff, and how that role can be enhanced to provide a better service to our customers.
“Our plans are to introduce brand new British-built trains, an investment of £895m.
“We are not committed to any one method of train operation for this new fleet, to be introduced by December 2020, and we will fully involve our employees and trade unions in discussions on the initial designs of the new trains and ideas on how they best operate.
“We look forward to engaging with our employees and the trade unions in the coming months.”
And in with the new: South Western Railway is the new franchise operator