Posted 12th October 2016 | No Comments

New peace moves in Southern DOO dispute

GOVIA Thameslink Railway has offered to restart talks with the RMT today in the continuing dispute over driver-only operation on Southern.

The RMT dubbed the gesture a 'golden opportunity'. However, a statement by the union's general secretary Mick Cash suggests that there may still be important differences between the two sides.

Southern services are being disrupted again in the second day of a three-day strike by conductors -- the first in a series of walkouts called by the RMT between now and December.

Southern’s chief executive Charles Horton has offered to meet RMT general secretary Mick Cash face-to-face, and he has also asked the union to call off this week’s strike so that 'productive' talks can take place.

He told Mr Cash last night: “I’m prepared to free my diary from tomorrow morning onwards to meet and to show your serious intent, I would like the RMT to call off the rest of the strike action planned for this week.”

Mr Horton, who has warned conductors that their existing contracts will be terminated at the end of this year, went on to say: "The union is well aware from our actions of last Friday that we are taking the necessary steps to implement our proposals. 

"It would be beneficial to everyone if we can do so with the agreement of the RMT, but this has to be on the basis of the principles we have made clear to them throughout.  Our proposals remain unchanged from 8 August when we set out our full, fair and comprehensive 8-point offer, on top of previous assurances made to you. These were supplemented by the offer of a lump sum payment on 3 October, which the RMT rejected last week. Let’s hope sense prevails and we can shake hands on a deal."


A PRINCIPAL sticking point seems to be the issue of trains being allowed to run with only a driver on board in exceptional circumstances, without an on-board supervisor (writes Railnews editor Sim Harris).

Southern says this is essential for maximum flexibility and is therefore a key part of its reforms, but the RMT has insisted that all trains must carry a second crew member, an argument which ScotRail has recently accepted.

When Charles Horton was asked about this part of the Southern deal in a radio interview, the RMT seized on some of his remarks as implying that no train would ever run without a crew of two. However, GTR later explained that Mr Horton had meant that no service would ever be rostered to run without two staff members on board. This did not mean that the list of 'exceptional circumstances' which would allow true DOO had been withdrawn.

At the moment, it seems that the RMT is sticking to its original interpretation. Mick Cash responded to the talks invitation by saying: "RMT is pleased that GTR have responded positively to the union call for talks earlier today after Charles Horton told the BBC he was prepared to guarantee a second member of staff on every current Southern service with a conductor on board. 

"That gives us scope to move on and to discuss the detail of the role of that guaranteed second person‎ and to move towards a negotiated settlement to this dispute. This is a golden opportunity to make a breakthrough and RMT will be at the talks tomorrow."

Some concessions by one or both sides may still be needed if this protracted dispute is to be settled any time soon.