Posted 3rd August 2016 | 9 Comments

Southern dispute: now ASLEF joins in

ASLEF is to ballot its Govia Thameslink Railway members over strikes and action short of a strike, following what the union describes as a 'breakdown in industrial relations'. The news came as GTR and the RMT were locked in talks at ACAS in the long running dispute over extensions of driver-only operation on Southern.

Govia Thameslink Railway condemned ASLEF's action as 'cynical and desperate'.

ASLEF has already clashed with GTR this year over the issue of driver-only operation on 12-car Gatwick Express trains, but has been forced to retreat twice after GTR obtained High Court injunctions.

At the heart of this new dispute are the rosters which have been introduced in connection with Southern's reduced emergency timetable. This cut the number of trains by about a sixth from 11 July in a bid to make the timetable more predictable, as high levels of sickness among conductors continued.

ASLEF said its ballot would close on 31 August.

GTR passenger service director Angie Doll said: “Twice ASLEF has tried to block our plans to improve the railway and twice the courts have ruled their attempts unlawful. ASLEF members have been successfully operating this timetable for three weeks to deliver more reliable services for passengers and staff in the face of traincrew shortages.

"To call a strike ballot against this timetable now is a cynical and desperate attempt to heap even more misery on passengers, especially as we have met with ASLEF on two occasions and have a further meeting with them next week on this specific issue.

“Passengers should remember that ASLEF and the RMT signed a pact last year to fight any extension of driver-only operation tooth and nail. The news of this ballot comes at the very moment we are trying to find a resolution with the RMT at ACAS and is premature and opportunistic.”

Reader Comments:

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

  • Lutz, London

    Time for some mass sackings, and prosecution of the trouble makers. Add to that the introduction of new legislation to make strikes illegal in the service industry.

  • Jonathan Brain, Hertfordshire

    Sounds like the unions / staff are not selling the issue.

    Full DOO and self dispatch at all stations - regardless of lighting, time of day, time of year, weather and how crowded the platform is! Recipe for delays when drivers don't take the risk and walk the train for a close inspection and recipe for accidents when they don't take that risk - plus badgering from management about poor performance issues and encouraging them to take the risk (i.e. 'many of your mates do' type comments!).

    Years ago I recall there was some issue about guards giving drivers a ding-ding clear to despatch when the signal was against them and the driver proceeding! If a driver could not be trusted to not make a mistake in that situation is it wise to put the whole responsibility onto the driver?

    Or have I misunderstood the safety case here?

    By all means have DOO and self dispatch if that avoids cancelling a service under exceptional circumstances. But drivers must know they have full support if they delay a service by making additional external checks. And unions must be ready to pull the plug if the 'exceptional circumstances' rule gets misused.

  • Steve, Kuwait City

    Oh, by the way, I love the fact that, when these companies want the travelling public's sympathy, they refer to us as 'passengers', yet when things go wrong, we are 'customers'; like most of us have a choice.

  • Steve, Kuwait City

    The UK is a country where the bus companies get to run like trains, and the train companies get to run their services like bad airlines. Trade Unions are necessary because they are on the inside and provide a voice besides the propaganda of the company itself.

    The UK will forever stagnate if this situation is allowed to continue, let alone pouring the money needed for upgrading and modernising thousands of railway miles, into a single line linking two cities.

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    Much as I hate pandering to the knee-jerk reaction of Nationalisation Good Privatisation Bad, I'm coming to the opinion that Thameslink/Southern needs to be temporarily re-nationalised in the way East Coast was. It's just got in too much of a mess, and I can only see a fully co-ordinated strategy across the DfT, TfL, Network Rail and the rail operator to sort this out.

    This is harsh on GTR, because most of their woes are someone else's fault. However, they are not blameless themselves (the driver shortage in particular was something they could have avoided), and they are in breach of their franchise terms with this emergency timetable. As with East Coast, the government can always re-franchise later when the time is right.

  • Jackson Hall, Bucks

    Time to get G4S to recruit keen migrants on the minimum wage to drive trains - fully DOO with self dispatch at all stations - no platform staff.

    Then all the existing drivers, not to mention the guards, platform staff, ticket office staff and so on can be dismissed.

  • Douglas, Edinburgh

    This has now gone from ridiculous to frankly scandalous!

    Surely now anyone who looks objectively at this can only conclude that self-interest is the order of the day here and not the customer

    I fully understand that the RMT must be nervous about OBS' ultimately not having to be back-filled to cover natural attrition so ultimately reducing their membership over time. Why else bang the "safety critical" drum when it's really only a smokescreen?

    But how can ASLEF justify joining in? They have seemingly been desperate to get involved from the start. But over rosters to cover a reduced the same number of drivers but fewer services? I suppose it'll be the "imposition" (read "change") that they object to but the reality must be that the unions smell blood in their campaign for public ownership (and all the perks that would give them)

    The DfT already get the sales revenue for the GTR franchise so all the "fat cat" posturing doesn't hold water.....just rhetoric and propaganda to support their own crusade for a socialist agenda - with NO regard for what that means for the paying public

    If the rail unions carry on like this they will destroy the rail industry by forcing a modal shift away from rail as all the screaming, shouting and tantrums in the world can't hide the fact that if rail isn't reliable because of the constant threat of industrial action then people will have to make choices and find more reliable methods to get from A to B...not good for the industry, government or the environment - but do they care?

  • Lee, Manchester

    I am sick-to-death of hearing station announcements stating services are delayed/cancelled due to awaiting a member of staff/a member of staff not being available. Along with many other commuters, I pay a large part of my salary every year to commute to work by rail. I don't care who operates the doors on the trains, I just want to be able to travel to/from work. Why can't these people collect fares and deal with the public? If it is an issue of protecting jobs, why can't staff be trained in fare collection and driving to create a pool of staff that can operate the trains and end the 'delayed/cancelled due to unavailable train crew' announcements? Why can't these people put the customer first rather than their own self-interest? They seem to forget that it is the customer that funds them through fare box returns and subsidies from taxation?

  • John B, Woodford Halse

    Trade unions are getting simply ridiculous now. An outdated concept which has served its purpose. If they can't be banned, a 90% minimum turn-out in ballots should be required. DOO is happening whether they like it or not.