Posted 15th June 2016 | 10 Comments

New strike called on Southern in RMT dispute

UPDATED ::: 09.27

PEACE talks intended to resolve the Southern conductors' dispute have failed, and their union the RMT has called a further strike for next week.

Conductors are now set to walk out on Tuesday 21 June, while Southern's owner Govia Thameslink Railway has confirmed its plans to replace most Southern conductors with on board supervisors who will not control the doors.

Angry Southern commuters staged a demonstration at Brighton station last night.

The Conservative MP for Croydon South, Chris Philp, told the BBC that Southern had been doing an 'appalling job', and he called for the large GTR franchise to be broken up. He said the RMT was also at fault, because he did not believe the DOO proposals affected safety. "The people suffering are my constituents. In one extreme case, one of them has lost her job."

GTR said its proposals to change the role of the second staff member on board Southern trains 'protected all jobs and benefited passengers'.

The company said talks had ended at ACAS yesterday without any 'practical proposal' from the RMT, which instead presented a seven-point plan explaining how conductors would keep their present duties, combined with related changes to the job of Revenue Protection Officers and potential changes at several RPO depots. The union continues to maintain that the changes which Southern is introducing will jeopardise safety.

However, GTR warned that it was 'not prepared to favour one group of employees over any other', and insisted that the transition on Southern would begin in August. It added that further strikes, 'which just cause misery to passengers', were 'entirely unnecessary'. It has undertaken to 'engage directly with employees' in the meantime.

Chief operating officer Dyan Crowther said: “Despite six months of talks, the RMT gave us no practical plan to implement the new role at ACAS – instead we have this announcement of a totally unnecessary strike. We now have no option but to confirm the implementation of the new role.

“This new on-board role will keep people on trains, and re-focus their roles on assisting passengers. No-one is losing their job, and as many services will have someone on board as they do today.

“We know that many passengers are experiencing a poor service at the moment, that’s why we need to bring in these changes as quickly as possible.”

Services on Southern have also been disrupted in recent weeks by high levels of sickness among conductors, and rail minister Claire Perry has joined the debate by accusing those involved of staging a work to rule which is 'outrageous and unfair'.

Meanwhile Govia Thameslink is now working towards the goals set out for it in a Remedial Plan published by the DfT at the end of May, which outlined a series of problems which have contributed to poor performance. It is understood that the DOO changes on Southern formed part of Govia's bid for the Thameslink contract.

In a related development, the RMT has stepped up its campaign against driver only operation by launching a document which sets out recent incidents in which passengers have been injured when boarding or alighting from trains.

The unions are opposing any extensions of DOO. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “This dossier has been produced by RMT as part of our national fight against the introduction and extension of Driver Only Operation on Britain’s railways as the greedy train operating companies look to dilute the safety regime in favour of maximising their profits from the privatised network.

“The dossier sets out a range of examples from across the country that detail the real consequences for the travelling public of axing and undermining the safety-critical role of the guard.

“The examples are horrific – but the current moves, in the wake of the Government-backed McNulty report that made DOO the default option on our trains – mean that they will be the tip of the iceberg if we don’t halt and reverse the drive to take out the guards."

Reader Comments:

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

  • Dave H, Glasgow

    I've noted RAIB investigations relating to train dispatch events, with fatal or seriously worrying issues. All but 2 or these appear to have involved DOO, and it looks that we may soon have to add NDO (no driver operation) following the recent DLR incident.

    For Charing Cross (DOO incident with platform dispatch) the detail of providing a means to make an immediate application of the brakes from the platform or the train seems to have been overlooked. With slammers this was quickly achieved, as I did one night at Wivelsfield, when I spotted an open door as the departing train moved past and simply flipped the external flag (for an emergency brake application) before the train got up speed.

    Such a detail would also have substantially cut the time taken to stop the train in the James Street fatal incident, as the time 'cost' for the guard to reach and bell the single stop signal and the reaction time of the driver from hearing the buzzer to applying the brakes may well have doubled the time that the train was accelerating, before the brakes took effect.

    A direct brake venting option, perhaps cutting off at 10-20mph that can be activated on the train, or from the platform would surely be a system that would mirror the provision of emergency stop buttons around processes and machinery with potential to cause harm.

    As for the need for a safety qualified member of railway staff on board the train to manage passengers whilst the driver manages the incident, one only has to look at the chaotic hazards created by passenger initiated train evacuations that have happened on London's commuter routes, notoriously between Kentish Town and St Pancras Midland Road, and the historic fatal incident on the GW main line near Twyford (?).

    Only in the last week when our train blew the pan at Perry Bar and we sat for nearly 2 hours until the recovery unit 'powered' us through to Crewe the guard did a sterling task deterring one passenger from getting out and walking.

    I'm also not totally convinced by the claims that guard operated dispatch is slower than DOO. Guards can often prime those alighting to be ready and even know when the last passenger gets off, or on, so that the doors can immediately begin to close. The arcane system of buzzer signals harking back to signalbox bell codes of 150 years ago, could easily be replaced by the operation of an interlock release 'sealed' or switched out whilst the guard would continue to watch the departure until the train clears the platform - a detail which a) vanishes from the driver's perspective as soon as the front of the train moves clear of the platform and external screens b) must cease to be the main focus as the driver must now focus on the signalling and track ahead (a potential here to reflect on how this may relate to Bellgrove and Newton train dispatch errors leading to fatal collisions).

    Finally I was at a Southwest Trains stakeholder briefing that day the pan blew and they ran through the Transport Focus passenger satisfaction scores. For the delivery of a staff presence on the train SWT scored 51% (there is always a guard - paired for the shift with the same driver to avoid that "awaiting a member of staff" issue) against the averaged score of London & SE of 35%. Perhaps the passengers, sorry, customers, might be trying to tell the operators something?

  • David Ryder, Camberley

    Delays this, delays that that's all I ever hear from people about the conductors. Hey, some of them may delay the odd service, but they do a damn good job at protecting the passengers. I wouldn't put my trust in some cameras if my life depended on it. ;)

  • Jim Campbell, Birmingham

    Too often when a train arrives as I wait to get on there is a delay in opening the doors because the guard is caught away from the doors as he/she is checking tickets. If the driver could open the doors that unnecessary delay could be avoided.

  • Richard , Gloucester

    Surely driver operation of the doors must in most circumstances be safer as it removes the risk of misunderstanding of a signal from the guard. In this day and age it ought to be possible to have a system that prevents a train starting if there is anything caught in the door.

    As a passenger I would prefer someone to be entirely concerned with the needs of those on the train and not have other duties to perform unless the driver were to be incapacitated.

    Can the solution to this dispute be one in which every train must run with a two person crew with the second person being responsible only for those on the train. This person should have an office where they will be available whenever they are not mingling with passengers.

  • David Ryder, Camberley

    Mick Cash cares for all passengers haters, I'd think twice about what you're saying of him.

  • David Ryder, Camberley

    I could listen to Mick Cash all day he is straight to the point on this.

  • andrew, crawley

    The hidden agenda to this totally unnecessary dispute is simple the DFt is egging on Govia to do away with unions before TFl step in and take over the some of the franchise but of course Railnews will only print one side the PR handout from TOCs meanwhile the only people who suffer are the usual suspects the traveling public,oh and just remind us how much Govia have received in subsidies?
    [Rubbish -- at least the reference to us. I suggest you read our copy properly, and then you will see how many column centimetres we devote to the union side of this and similar debates. Indeed, Mick Cash will have a complete page in the July print edition of Railnews to explain his union's stance in detail. What we do NOT do is comment editorially on the pros and cons of any industrial dispute. As for hidden agendas, if they exist they are indeed hidden. We do not report suspicions, guesses and conspiracy theories as fact.--Editor.]

  • Douglas, Edinburgh

    Is this (apparent) 'safety critical' argument with 'fat cats' not really masking what seems to be at the route cause of this dispute?

    Certainly not an expert but when you brush aside the mudslinging from both sides aren't you just left with the fact that GTR say there will be no compulsory redundancies (a good thing) just changes to 'how'. But since an OBS wouldn't necessarily be needed to allow a service to run doesn't it stand to reason that the RMT would be terrified that these roles would be allowed to reduce in numbers through natural attrition (not breaking the redundancy promise) and reduce the number of members they have and therefore their power base?

    Since DOO has been around for the last 30 years or so it feels like there must be more to this than either side is saying

    I thought that GTR were basically on a management contract from DfT so many of the arguments flying about don't make a lot of sense. Isn't DOO a franchise commitment anyway and driven by the DfT off the back of the McNulty report?

    Surely two sides of an argument this fractured and opposite can't both be right. Does anyone know why DOO/DCO was deemed as safe before talk of DOO being part of the IEP with the introduction of the new Hitachi Class 800 DEMU's on the GWML and ECML? I don't seem to remember it being an issue in the past

    Whatever the rights and wrongs on which ever side you look at, once again it's passengers stuck right in the middle of all the posturing. I can't imagine the frustration and misery this on-going dispute must be causing long suffering commuters on the Southern network but surely they at least should be taken out of the firing line

    I read recently that Claire Perry doesn't think that government should get involved in disputes between unions and the private sector. That doesn't seem to make sense when the DfT are so involved in the regulation, award and objective/reward for TOC franchises....I'd have thought they would be best placed to help give an objective view on behalf of the electorate and not business leaders or union activists (but I'm probably missing something obvious there or I'm sure it would have already been done)

    [To clarify the position of the GTR franchise, it is indeed a form of 'management contract', but an unusual one. Govia takes no revenue risk (in other words, the DfT collects the revenue and pays GTR for running the service) but it DOES take the costs risk -- it has to pay the bills. I cannot recall a similar arrangement in the past, and indeed Govia has warned that its profit from this contract is likely to be halved because it is having to spend more than was predicted in the business plan.--Editor.]

  • Chris Green, Huddersfield

    Show them who's boss RMT! Flying the flag for safety! 😉😂👌

  • John Bryant, Southampton

    DOO benefits no one bar a certain section Tory government who have an ideological hatred of the concept of trade unions, and a few overly greedy executives looking to curry favour with people higher up, to advance their careers. Customers will not benefit.

    Unlike many people I have no ideological issue with a privatised railway, - Grand Central and SWT for example know how to do it properly - but that does not mean it should go down to the lowest common denominator of stressed drivers worried about drunks on platforms, rather than signals. and a run down of customer service. Southern admit these On Board Service staff will not be on every train - and what happened to all the Gatwick Express Welcome Hosts, Catering and Ticket examiners when it went DOO I wonder. No wonder the workers are so scared for the future.

    Indeed we are told how great private investment is in the railways. A fair point. So let's keep the guards on board and raise standards, if we can afford all these grandiose schemes like HS2 and HS3 all these "wonderful" new voyager type DMUs replacing HSTs, then we can afford guards.

    The RMT need to sort their press releases out. How about explaining the risks of DOO, the increase risk of prosecutions of staff for platform train interface incidents, and the number of RAIB reports into DOO related issues, rather than going on about privatisation or whatever.