Posted 15th August 2016 | 9 Comments

Southern talks break down: 'modernisation goes ahead'


TALKS between Govia Thameslink Railway and RMT over the driver-only operation dispute have broken down.

The union had called off the last two days of a five-day strike on Southern last week as talks restarted, but the new discussions at ACAS have proved fruitless. The RMT's executive will be discussing the latest breakdown of talks today.

GTR said its changeover from conductors to on-board supervisors on most Southern trains would be going ahead as planned. The company had previously said the process would start on 21 August.

GTR's passenger services director Angie Doll said: ‘’We have been talking to the union for nine months now and, despite several visits to Acas, the union won't agree a deal. Passengers will be rightly exasperated that the RMT won’t agree to what most fair-minded people would believe is an incredibly good offer.  We are guaranteeing jobs, pay and a second person on as many trains as we do today and also offered to work with the RMT to agree modern working practices to reduce cancellations and passenger disruption.
“The RMT’s position does not help our passengers at all.  We have guaranteed to have a second person on as many trains as today, but the union is rigidly refusing our offer to agree a list of exceptional circumstances when we would be able to run our trains without a second staff member on board, such as during disruption to still get people home.  This would create the crucial flexibility we need to ensure fewer cancelled trains for our passengers.
"The RMT has repeatedly tried to play the safety card as the issue but it did not raise this issue at all during these latest talks, confirming this dispute is purely about union power and control. The fact is that, day in, day out for decades, up and down Britain’s railways and the Tube network, we’ve had the driver operating the doors, safely.  This is backed up by independent research and expert opinion, including that of the Rail Safety and Standards Board.
"We will now move forward with our modernisation plans which will deliver better customer service for our passengers.  Our eight-point proposal is still on the table and we urge the RMT to give this serious consideration. Over the coming weeks, we will be working closely with our staff [as] we start to implement these vital changes. After so much unnecessary industrial action, we must all get back to the job of giving our passengers the service they expect and deserve."

The RMT said it had 'tabled a reasonable and practical document that would have set the ground for resolving all aspects of the dispute without dilution of safety standards, would have addressed the needs of the business, and ensured that disabled, elderly and other groups could rely on a member of staff being on board to assist and facilitate their travel. This would have addressed all of the company’s concerns but GTR made it clear that they did not want to ensure the presence of the second person'.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "We had a golden opportunity in these talks to make some serious progress on the core issue of a second person on the train who would have protected the safety of passengers, delivered customer service and ensured access to services for those with disabilities or needing assistance.
"‎It's a bitter blow that a firm set of union proposals that could have allowed us to move forward were rejected out of hand. The matter will be discussed by the union executive this afternoon."

Reader Comments:

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

  • Jackson Hall, Bucks

    DOO self dispatch is the only safe way of running trains.

    Platform staff and guards are more dangerous, as proven by the RSSB. The RMT are endangering lives. The removal of every single guard and platform dispatcher from the entire network would improve safety.

  • James palma, London.

    Go fot it GTR! Hopefully introducing the new working will over ride the problems caused by the RMT.

  • Alan Hogg, Bournemouth

    The guards on South West Trains do nothing- on the Bournemouth line they sit in the rear drivers cab, locked out of communication with the rest of the train. I was involved in a medical emergency on a fast train going south through Basingstoke. I was unable to summon the guard, despite banging on the rear driver's cab door. We had to wait arrival at Winchester. When I complained to the supervisor at Bournemouth, he said "yes we know they do this." Safety role? Rubbish.

  • Graham Lees, LONDON

    Sorry, but it should not be necessary to have two people to do one job. The driver should be able to follow procedures and not depart before being sure that it is safe to do so. It is nonsense to expect a second person to check what the first is doing and I can think of nowhere else where his happens.
    Note also that from RAIB reports I've read (going back to 2011) there are as many incidents (if not more) where Guards/Platform despatchers are to blame for incidents as drivers on their own.
    The Unions are very near to killing the Goose that laid the golden egg here. They certainly lost my support a long time ago (the flexible rostering dispute: what happened to that?).

  • Chris , Longstock

    London is lucky to have stations with platform staff throughout the day. Not so in rural areas! This is why having a second member of train crew who can go onto the platform to look out for and sort any problems makes sense.

    Do the CCTV cameras have microphones, in case someone is calling for help?

  • Graham Lees, LONDON

    The problems should be the subject of negotiations to find a sensible answer that enables the driver to despatch the train safely. It does not justify a Guard to make sure the driver has done his job properly. They will face jail only if they are proved to be negligent. Rightly so. Why are five staff needed for a non-stop service of only 30 minutes?

  • Chris , Longstock

    Is the CCTV view of each carriage door constant or time lapsed (the still picture changes every 5 to 10 seconds)?

    Is the picture clear on a dark night (with poor platform lighting) or in strong sunlight?

  • Bob, London

    At this very moment there is a guard who was cleared because his TOC was prosecuted after a passenger tried to board and fell between the train and the platform. You may not realise, but when the driver applies the power the CCTV viewers for the DOO screens in the cab go out. This therefore puts the driver at direct risk of jail for someone chancing boarding the train as it is due to leave and falling even though the driver would be blissfully unaware. You may also not be aware that Gatwick Express now only have one person not the five previously after changes to job title were made and then the staff removed. This will only happen again. I believe they are right to stand up for this in terms of passenger experience, safety and the efficient running of the railway.

  • Graham Lees, LONDON

    I'm not surprised. The Luddites will accept nothing but retention (and return) of Guards on all trains, even if it means changing their names to Train Supervisor or some other new term!
    I do hope Southern and other operators stand fast on this. And hopefully they will soon find a way of recruiting drivers who are prepared to do their job properly (that is, follow procedures for train despatch diligently so that accidents are avoided) and who's first loyalty is to the Company that employs them.