Posted 28th November 2016 | 13 Comments

ASLEF calls drivers' strikes on Southern

DRIVERS on Southern belonging to ASLEF are preparing to join the dispute over driver-only operation by staging their first strikes, including a week-long walkout in the New Year.

Govia Thameslink Railway has warned that the new stoppages will have a 'devastating impact' on the economy in the south east of England, while ASLEF's general secretary said he saw 'the DfT's fingerprints all over this dispute'.

The union said just over 87 per cent of those who had voted had been in favour of strikes, in reaction to Southern's decision to 'force through driver only operation'.

Nearly all drivers are members of ASLEF, and the decision of the union's executive committee follows a series of walkouts this year called by the RMT, which represents most conductors. Their strikes have caused serious disruption and the cancellation of at least three trains out of ten, but action by ASLEF is likely to trigger an almost complete shutdown, because more than 95 per cent of Southern's drivers are ASLEF members.

The unions are opposed to the introduction of DOO on most of Southern's services, saying safety is at risk. Although trains would still normally have a second member of staff on board, there is particular opposition to Southern's requirement that it should be able to run trains with only a driver, in 'exceptional circumstances'.

Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs Southern, has faced calls for its franchise to be terminated following poor performance and the continuing industrial dispute over DOO.

GTR chief executive Charles Horton reacted to the new strike dates by saying: "The travelling public has endured months of misery and seen their work and family lives turned upside down by RMT's futile industrial action with conductors. Now ASLEF and the drivers want to compound that suffering by joining the fray in launching more pointless strikes.
"It’s perfectly safe for the driver to have sole responsibility for the operation of a modern train, and that's how a third of the trains up and down the country - with the full agreement and support of Aslef - already operate today.

"These strikes will have a devastating impact on the South East economy and people's everyday lives which will bring Southern to a standstill. We urge the union to get round the table with us to continue our talks and resolve their dispute without causing further unnecessary grief to passengers.

"Passengers have made it crystal clear that they want an end to these strikes.  Both the RMT and ASLEF should take stock and listen, if not to us, then at least to the travelling public.  Let's end these strikes now without further suffering."

However, ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said: "We have done our level best to try and reach a sensible, workable compromise with Southern in the interests of passengers as well as staff. We have always been happy to talk to the company, and we have always believed it is, or should be, possible to do a deal – as we did with ScotRail in Scotland –­ but it takes two to tango and the company has not been prepared to negotiate.

"The company – and I see the DfT’s fingerprints all over this dispute, it’s as if the DfT is the ventriloquist and Southern the ventroliquist’s dummy – doesn’t want to talk, it wants to bully; it doesn’t want to discuss, it wants to impose. Because it doesn’t care about passenger safety, only about profits for shareholders."

The walkouts by ASLEF drivers have been called on 13, 14 and 16 December, and from 9 to 14 January inclusive. ASLEF also said its members would not perform any 'non-contractual duties' from 6 December.

Reader Comments:

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

  • Jane, REDHILL

    The unions are behaving disgracefully. I live in the commuter belt for London and it is a nightmare. I do not blame Southern - if 30%+ trains across UK are being run as Driver Controlled then why can't we roll them out here? This is so Luddite it's disgusting; the Unions are run by bully boys who think they can cow everyone into bending to their will.
    Well RMT and ASLEF listen up - I hope Govia sack everyone who is a member of your unions and get people in who actually want to work for their money. Your drivers are paid basic of 50K and 6 weeks holiday - very nice thank you. Boo hoo that your guards were asked to no longer check the door status at unmanned stations but be more customer focused- no job losses, no pay cuts. So what excuse is there to strike - oh yes 'customer' safety even though plenty of trains already run as Driver Controlled.
    I can't remember the last time I saw a 'guard' do anything other than pop out of his nice warm cubby hole at the few stations where there aren't platform staff - 30 seconds quick glance and back in. People should take personal responsibility for their safety, look out for each other and not rely on a guard being available to check the door status. Anyway the driver can now do that. And Southern are NOT removing the person on the train - but hopefully that person will be more visible to the passengers as they certainly are not now and haven't been for about 5 years.
    Am fed up and furious

  • Peter Nance, Saltash

    If the public are happy to travel on trains with only one safety critical trained person (Driver), and relying on the integrity of each other to assist the elderly and or infirmed people, to deal with drunken antics or an abusive aggressive person threatening a young women. Or God forbid a terrorist act then let them take their chances. With no staff on platforms, no one to assist or to keep an eye on security and safety on board trains. It is fundamentally unsafe, it appears that some Tocs are playing Jenga with safety at all cost. Have we got to wait til a catastrophe to happen before we say enough. The safe and secure running of our railway system must not be eroded for sake of saving money so the shareholders have larger bonus. Safety should always come first.

  • Danny Gooch, Swindon

    James - not in the same context as mentioned in my post. DOO was conceived in the past when the litigation culture we have now didn't exist. As I said , if a member of traincrew causes injury through their own negligence then they should be held responsible. If , however , they carry out their duties correctly including providing adequate warning and a member of the public ignores that and injures themselves (or worse) , then not. Sadly society seems to have lost the sense of personal responsibility in many cases - aided by the "where there's blame there's a claim" legal industry.

  • Jordan Thomas, Letchworth

    Do you think that it would be possible for Rail News to report a positive story every so often?
    [You must ask Rail News (whoever they are) to see if they are willing to ignore realities in the interests of cheering you up, sir. We, on the other hand, are Railnews. Why not subscribe to the print edition? You will find every flavour of story there. Happy Christmas!--Editor.]

  • Chris , Longstock

    Perhaps there should be three types of service:

    Thameslink - a DOO budget service for "London" stations with platform staff throughout the working day, basic facilities and no passenger assistance on board.

    Southern - regional routes, guards/conductors to look after passengers on board and on platforms, closing the doors when safely to do so.

    Gatwick Express - Brighton, Gatwick and Victoria restoring the "Inter City" level of service, on board staff including some catering.

    How does their neighbouring South West Trains seem to provide a better service, approaching "Inter City" standards on their longer distance routes?

  • James Pritchard, Southampton

    Danny - presumably you are fine with those who work as guards at the moment being held legally responsible in their role?

  • Peter, Crawley

    Southern Railways has now posted that it expects its services to be severely disrupted every day from 6th December on. In their determination to retain their power to hold rail companies to ransom, the RMT and ASLEF are disrupting the lives of people in the South East. For years, I have travelled all over the country by rail on business; I have now decided to give up my job as I can't stand the stress any more. Perhaps it is time to adopt the policy Ronald Reagan used against the US air traffic controllers - sack the lot of them and start again with people who want to serve the public rather than themselves.

  • Danny Gooch, Swindon

    As a driver , regardless of the prospect of seeing good people made redundant by DOO, I strongly object to the idea of being held legally responsible for the actions of members of the public who are incapable of following rules or using common sense - fair enough if an incident arises as a result of my own error, but I refuse to accept that I should be liable if a drunkard injures themselves as result of failing to heed warning alarms and the like.

  • James palma, London.

    The government must intercede and ban essential service workers from striking. This is ridiculous

  • Roger Capel, Sheffield & Glossop

    Hands up all who, like me, thought naively that DOO was a "done" issue in 1982 after St. Pancras - Bedford electrification & brand new 317s sitting in the sidings for months! That it could explode into life like this nearly 35 years on just beggars belief.

    What makes it even more surreal is that Thameslink DOO 700s will be sharing the Brighton & Sutton lines - how does that work?

  • Douglas, Edinburgh

    Surely something has to give here...the Luddite unions (despite what they say) clearly view a modernised railway as a threat to their members

    That's probably with good reason but they should really just come out and be open about that rather than hurling the "bully" tag around ala Jeremy Kyle

    It isn't really a case of modernising our railways either. As far as I can tell it's more about trying to catch up with many other countries who have a better developed infrastructure and working practices (yesterday's technology tomorrow you could say)

    This whole sorry mess has become so toxic and politicised I can't see how anyone can come out with their heads held high. GTR (given their contract) can't reverse plans without the DfT's consent. The Government can't be seen to lose a dispute with the unions (especially given Labours commitment to re-nationalisation) and the unions (I expect) see the current Labour Party's socialist resurgence as the tinder for prolonged national campaigning against privatisation

    It's time for everyone to stop hiding behind smokescreens of 'safety' or similar and come clean about the agendas here

    The DfT clearly want to drive efficiency, cut away at some of the fat and reduce the cost of running our railways

    The RMT/ASLEF clearly want to ensure that their members do not have to change working practices and that the risk that automation and technology represents to their members jobs isn't allowed to be introduced

    Two positions that are polar opposites so where is the compromise going to come from when both sides of the argument appear to have an all or nothing approach?

    Ultimately I would imagine that changes will be pushed through regardless of industrial action and the pain that travellers in the south are facing (not to mention any other area of the country where DOO is on the cards in the future) but at what cost to the public?

    There is a strong argument to say that commuter routes in particular do represent essential services and that strike action shouldn't be allowed meaning that other means of protest would have to be employed other than inflicting misery on thousands

    No-one is going to come out of this well and what about the future? Once (or if) this dispute reaches a conclusion then what next? Given the hatred, allegations from both sides and particularly the emotive and inflammatory use of language from the RMT in particular is everyone going to shake hands at the end of it and let bygones be bygones? I doubt it

    If RMT members have swallowed the propaganda are they going to trust their employers in the future?

    Are GTR going to want to work with the RMT (and to a lesser extent so far with ASLEF) after this war of words?

    Can the DfT really stay out of this with their credibility intact?

    The answer is likely to be 'no' so where does that leave passengers in the midst of a situation that is certainly not of their making? Who knows but it seems likely that it's going to be painful, protracted and the public will be the ones that have to suffer

  • Philip Russell , Carlisle

    Whilst imany accept Southern have behaved far from perfectly in this dispute from the outset,allowing powerful union barrons coordinating seemingly endless strikes to paralysis the railway into submission isn't going to deliver much if any long term improvement either,

  • Keith Davison, Horsham

    Southern should suspend its plans for a 3 month period to ensure that there are no strikes ongoing and work out a compromise plan to keep the railways going.
    Too much grief has been suffered already.