THE RMT union has intensified its industrial action on Southern by calling a five day strike, running from 00.01 on August 8 to 23.59 on August 12. Only a week previously, the union had said it would suspend industrial action for three months to allow talks to take place provided Southern suspended plans for extending driver only operation (DOO) for the same period.
The dispute between the RMT and Southern (operated by Govia Thameslink Railway) stems from plans to introduce 12-car formations on the Gatwick Express and serviced extended to Brighton in which the operation of closing the doors would transfer to the driver. The role of guards would change as to one assisting passengers and ensuring the security of the train internally. The RMT view the change as one that will impact the safety of passengers at the platform/train interface but reports from the Rail Safety & Standards Board say there is no evidence to suggest safety will be compromised.
Govia has said also that there will be no job losses and the union is refusing to accept the change in roles, even though around 40% of Govia services already run as DOO trains, particularly on Thameslink.
Govia’s Chief Operating Officer Dyan Crowther, clearly angered by the five-day strike said:
“It is unacceptable that passengers are being made to suffer five days of disruption all because the RMT is refusing to accept necessary change. We are offering all our onboard staff a job, as valued members of our future operation, with no reduction in salary.
“We value the work of our staff, who are trying their best to deliver service levels that passengers expect. The sooner we can introduce the essential modernisation that our railways desperately need, the sooner we can stop the RMT from holding passengers to ransom.
“Contrary to the RMT’s accusation, we have always been open to talks and remain so. Only this week we spoke with the General Secretary Mick Cash about further talks and he has been unwilling to enter into discussion.”
Disputes over DOO operation have been ongoing for some four months, and with no progress, Southern has had to contend with increased levels of staff sickness, leading to train cancelleation.
To combat this, in early July the operator introduced an emergency timetable in which 341 services per day were cut, including the popular Milton Keynes-Clapham Junction service and off-peak services along the Sussex Coastway route.
There have been calls for Govia to be stripped of the franchise and the Government’s operator of last resort Directly Operated Railways be brought in to run the franchise, but that will not solve the current dispute, which if not resolved soon, could impact Govia’s ability to bid for future franchises.
On July 29, Govia asked ACAS, the advisory, conciliation and arbitration service, to facilitate talks with the RMT and is calling on the union to call off its damaging five-day strike by conductors timed to start on August 8 . Senior negotiators have cleared their diaries to undertake settlement talks.