Posted 19th May 2016 | 10 Comments

Govia returns to High Court over union's DOO ballot

GOVIA Thameslink Railway is returning to the High Court in the continuing and increasingly bitter dispute between the company and unions over driver-only operation on Southern and Gatwick Express.

GTR is seeking an injunction which would prevent ASLEF continuing with a strike ballot of its driver members on Gatwick Express. The company claims that the union has broken the rules which control the conduct of ballots, and that 'because it induced drivers to refuse to drive trains in advance of conducting the ballot, it cannot now lawfully ask them to take industrial action'.

ASLEF, which is opposing DOO operation of 12-car trains on the Gatwick route, said it was 'disappointed', and that it had yet to take any industrial action. The result of the ballot is due on Monday, when the union's executive committee will decide what to do next.

Conductors belonging to the RMT went on strike for a third day on Southern routes yesterday, after two days of industrial action in late April.

Southern said around two thirds of its trains ran, with the help of 'contingency' conductors and office staff. The RMT said support for the action had been 'solid and determined'.

The RMT is fighting plans to replace many conductors with 'on board supervisors' who would look after passengers but not control the doors. GTR pointed out that more than half of the trains operated on its networks are already driver-only operated. DOO was introduced between Bedford and London on what is now part of Thameslink as long ago as 1982.

The clash has provoked heated exchanges, with the RMT accusing GTR of endangering safety for the sake of profit. GTR responded: "This is nothing to do with profits. Safety is our absolute number one priority. The RMT is being deliberately misleading with this outrageous claim."

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "The union welcomes the support from the travelling public as they recognise that this dispute is about defending safety critical jobs and services against the drive for cash-driven cuts that would see those services hacked to ribbons.

"With commuters paying thousands of pounds a year for their annual tickets on Southern there can be no explanation for the removal of the guards other than a central obsession in the board room for putting increased profits above public safety. That message is ringing out loud and clear as the dispute continues‎."

However, GTR chief executive Charles Horton responded: “This pointless and unnecessary action by the RMT causes enormous disruption for the 300,000 people we carry on their commute every day.

“The railway men and women of Britain are overwhelmingly diligent and hard-working, and they care deeply about the rail service they provide. But they are being led astray, and misled repeatedly, by trade unions acting in their own narrow, selfish interests and ignoring the interests of either commuters or railway workers themselves. It’s time for those unions to get on board with these changes which will improve the railway for passengers, as well as securing the jobs of their members.”

Reader Comments:

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

  • Graham Lees, LONDON

    Steve Alston: Your achievements are truly commendable, but what's that got to do with drivers opening and closing doors? As a passenger, not a manager, the delays caused by conductors opening doors are unnecessary, to say the least.
    I fully support the need for conductors on-board ALL TRAINS to deal with all the other things you mention, but the Unions will loose their argument (and certainly any residual public support) if they do not accept that it is as safe for the driver to open and close the doors as it is a guard/conductor.

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    I'm not slating all conductors most do turn up to their job, though there is a minority who will not come to work sometimes due to the excuse of being "sick".

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    Message to the conductors who think it is acceptable to pretend being sick and be in bed with a bowel of hot tomato soup: show common sense and have only have time off work when you are truly sick.

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    You could say conductors which are part of the RMT do play a "sick" game to participate in strikes, but even when services are running, passengers can be affected by conductors not turning for work due to APPARENTLY being "sick". Even worse for those who have to stand on the platform for an hour when the frequency is only hour.

  • Jason Rice, West Sussex

    All GTR passengers want is a service that runs on time, has enough seats and is reliable. With the RMT playing silly games and conductors off "sick" they are not getting even a half decent service with trains cancelled, breaks in service and reduced rolling stock. It won't be long before the customer has enough and demand the service they are paying for whether they have "safety critical" conductors or not. The RMT certainly do not have passenger support on the route I use everyday!

  • Steve Alston, Crewe

    I've dealt with:
    1 Rape
    1 Train Fire
    6 Fatalities
    1 Derailment
    50+ Medical Emergencies
    1000+ People sent to court for fare evasion
    200000+ Tickets sold in 20 years, ie I pay for myself..

    Driver alone can't really do most of those things effectively, and barriers are useless once a person is through them with a one-stop ticket. In the real world, the guard pays for himself, not just in money but many times over in other ways.

    The stupid view of some plankton in TOC management is 'those pesky guards' add to delay minutes 'thus damaging the PPM of the KPI etc'.

    RIP Common Sense.

  • Andrew Richmond, Bolton

    For those that agree with the imposition of DOO, I would urge you to be very careful over what you wish for, & you would also do well to reflect that when the guard has gone, he or she will not be coming back. So, when you are travelling late in the evening, or at weekends, on what may be a particularly "lively" train, & the driver is regrettably incapacitated for whatever reason, you are on your own, because there will no longer be a second safety-critical member of staff on board the train, to inform, assist, & to make urgent phone calls, & if passengers just happen to take matters into their own hands by bailing out when the train isn't at a station, & this does happen, particularly on DOO lines, they are quite likely to be seriously injured or killed by oncoming trains, given that their train has not been afforded the necessary protection, as would have been with a guard on board. This is not hysteria - it is fact.

  • SHAUN, BASINGSTOKE

    Yes there have been no guaranteed job loses and no cut in pay BUT once the migration to this role happens then there is no reason to then start clearing out without affecting service and within 12 - 24 months half of the OBS would have been retired/sacked/or resigned saving the company thousands because they will not replace them.

    In the current DOO services there is no OBS whatsoever, a few Revenue Staff patrol the network and would only cover about 100 trains a day out of the thousands they run.
    It is very much a drive to cut costs by de-staffing the network.
    I'm afraid once this happens there will no going back and I pray for everyone who travels because it will only get worse.

  • Neil Palmer, Waterloo

    Can Mick Cash explain how this is a "drive for cash-driven cuts" and about " putting increased profits above public safety " when his members have been guaranteed no loss of jobs and no cut in pay?

    Could it be the real reason the RMT is opposed to this is because some of their members simply want to sit on their behinds in the rear driving car reading the newspaper and drinking tea while waiting for their one opportunity in probably a million journeys to performs the "safety critical role" the RMT claims they are there for? Are they too lazy to walk through the train assisting passengers, or are they miserable and lack the people skills to do so, like their bolshevik leader Mick Cash?

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    Battle these despicable changes for as long as necessary, Mick Cash. They'll be knocked off their perch some day and wave their white surrender flag.