Posted 27th April 2016 | 6 Comments

Southern strike 'rock solid', union claims

THE RMT union has claimed that the response from its members to the first day of a 48-hour strike of Southern conductors has been 'rock solid', but Southern said two-thirds of its trains had run yesterday.

Services are being disrupted for a second day by a dispute over proposed extensions to driver-only operation, which Southern's owner Govia Thameslink Railway says will mean a better service for passengers. The operator has also denied union allegations that safety would be put at risk by putting door control in the hands of drivers, and has accused the RMT of 'scaremongering'.

There is also disagreement about what is being done to solve the dispute. The RMT said it 'remains available for meaningful talks', but Southern responded that the union had refused to join discussions at ACAS, and appealed to the RMT to begin negotiations.

A spokesman for Southern said: "This strike by the RMT is completely unnecessary and causes undue misery to our passengers. No staff would lose their jobs under our proposals or see a reduction in their salary, whilst passengers would benefit by having more visible staff on trains. We urge the RMT to come back to the negotiating table.

“As many trains will be staffed as today – we simply want to evolve the role of our on board staff to make them more visible and available to passengers. In addition, services won't be cancelled if an on-board supervisor is not available. That in itself -- particularly in times of disruption -- is a massive bonus for our passengers."

The strike has disrupted services and many trains are being cancelled, particularly on local lines. Main line services have been closer to normal, and Southern is hoping that there will be more evening trains today than last night.

The company warned: "While we are working to run as many trains as possible, on some routes there will be no train service at all and on others it will be significantly reduced and start late and finish early.”

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "Our guards members on Southern are rock-solid and determined this morning as they begin this phase of industrial action in defense of the life-or-death services they provide for the travelling public and against cash-driven cuts that would see those services hacked to ribbons.

“Let us be crystal clear – this dispute is about safety and the safety-critical role of the guards. The company, with an eye on ever-fatter profits, is prepared to axe the guards on some of the most overcrowded and potentially-dangerous services in Britain so that they can squeeze every last penny out of their passengers regardless of the consequences. That is a lethal gamble with safety in the name of profit and that is why we have been forced to take strike action.

"The consequences of removing guards, the human eyes and ears on that dangerous interface between crowded platforms and crowded trains, is blindingly obvious to anyone but the rip-off merchants running this deeply unpopular rail franchise."

Four more days of industrial action have been called in May unless progress is made to resolve the dispute.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Neil Palmer, Waterloo

    The Guard will still be on the train, but more visible to the passengers, enhancing their safety - especially on late evening trains. Drivers have been operating the doors safely for years (including on many Thameslink trains running on many of the same lines) and the new stock has cameras for each door to make it perfectly safe. The RMT scream wolf far too often on safety, and yes, I DO believe than 95% of the time all they are trying to do is get more money out of the government, taxpayers & passengers (basically everyone). Because they cry SAFETY at every opportunity is it any wonder no one would believe them IF there was a genuine safety concern (which this is NOT).

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    I don't get why people think the union is doing these strikes to just get more money. The union is not using the "passenger safety" reason to trick their way into getting a heftier pay pocket. The strikes are happening because they CARE about the safety of the passengers using the trains, and NOT just themselves. They put the passenger BEFORE themselves.

  • Neil Palmer, Waterloo

    The RMT play the safety card so often in blatant attempts at extorting more money that no one would believe them if they raised a genuine safety concern.

    Let us be crystal clear this dispute has NOTHING to do with safety and everything to do with the usual attempt by the RMT to blackmail the public (for that's who end up paying) for more money. Mick Cash is a Luddite (a greedy one at that, albeit doing his job in trying to constantly get more money for his members) who wants to perpetuate 19th century methods of operation in the 21st century.

    Letting drivers control the doors on modern stock (with CCTV) is safe and will reduce station dwell times (necessary to get the most out of our capacity constrained network), and having guards spend more being visible and dealing with the passengers (instead of hiding away in the read driving compartment) will improve the feeling of safety among the traveling public, especially on late evening services.

    Also the ability to actually run a service instead of cancelling it on rare occasions that a guard is unavailable can only be a benefit to the public. Of course the RMT doesn't give a toss for the traveling public as the calling of yet another pointless strike clearly demonstrates.

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    Not really news, is it ? This is the way all negotiations are carried out on the Railways - and have been for 70 years. Union alleges 'Passenger Safety' issue and calls strikes. Management then offer more money and the Union forgets about the 'Safety' issue straight away. I try not to be cynical but I can't stop.

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    Staging protests does cause some disruption, but this is about making their feelings known and the more that are staged the better the chance the dispute will be addressed. They are thinking of the safety of the passenger, so good on them!

  • Graham Lees, LONDON

    Would the RMT and ASLEF please stop referring to this as a safety critical issue? There is probably more risk in two people being involved in checking than there is with one - the driver. The driver should be fully responsible for ensuring that it is safe to open and close doors, and the delays caused by this responsibility being in the hands of a (so called) guard is, to say the least, irritating to passengers, Particularly, I would be happy to forego the supposed added safety measure of the guards spending 15-20 seconds at each stop checking that the train is in the right position before opening the door. If the driver can't do that, he or she shouldn't be a driver.
    It really is time the rail companies mounted as vigorous a campaign to explain their case, as the RMT and ASLEF do for theirs. The public deserves to be assured that safety is NOT a critical issue here.