THE long-running dispute between staff working for Southern over the role of conductors has taken a new turn after the RMT union advised staff to accept the new contracts on offer – but also to continue with planned strike action. The announcement came on Sunday 9 October.
Prior to this, Southern had given the union an eight-point offer that included a £2,000 bonus and job guarantee until 2021 provided acceptance of the offer was reached by midday on October 6.
In addition Southern said that if the union did not agree in principle to the full offer by midday on Thursday, it will “regretfully proceed without the RMT’s involvement” and serve notice letters to conductors affected, terminating their existing contracts and inviting them to sign up to the new on-board supervisor (OBS) role to be effective from January 1.
Talks between Southern and the RMT that took place on October 6 ended without an agreement being reached and just after lunch that day, Southern issued a statement saying it would ‘press ahead with plans to modernise services’ but in order to implement its proposals, letters will be sent to conductors terminating their existing contracts and inviting them to sign up to the new OBS role.
In accepting the offer, the RMT denied a ‘climb down’ but said it was their duty to protect staff against mass sackings.
Charles Horton, CEO of parent company Govia Thameslink Railway, said: “It is welcome that the RMT has finally seen sense.
“They reject an offer one day, tell conductors to sign up to the role the next.
“Their own union has lost them each a £2,000 bonus which was on offer last Thursday.
“To go ahead with these strikes after telling conductors to accept our offer sets new standards in union militancy.
Southern’s eight point plan in addition to the £2,000 bonus included:
- Southern will guarantee that every train currently operated with a conductor will continue to have either a traditional conductor or a second member of on board employees diagrammed/rostered.
- Southern guarantees that traditional conductors will retain current competence and will guarantee that the second member of on board employees will be trained to a ‘safety competent’ level including track safety training, train evacuation, traction competence and full commercial route knowledge (excluding train dispatch).
- Southern will propose a list of exceptional circumstances, to be agreed with the RMT, whereby a train can continue in service without a second member of on board employees, for the benefit of customers.
- These proposals, including the above guarantees, are dependent upon agreement that services with a second member of on board employees (rather than a traditional conductor) will have the driver in full control of train dispatch. Agreement for this to be implemented will be ratified at local level.
- Collective bargaining rights for the new OBS role will be agreed with the RMT, ensuring that this group will have a voice within the organisation as well as full negotiation rights.
- A joint review of the OBS role after 12 months of operation, to look at role development, training and future career development.
- A guaranteed minimum level of voluntary overtime for all OBSs, the detail of which would be agreed with the RMT.
- A guarantee to retain the OBS role at the levels already guaranteed, beyond 2021, should GTR retain the franchise.
These eight points were on top of commitments already made to the RMT including:
- No compulsory redundancies
- No reduction in salary
- No compulsory location moves
- Guaranteed above inflation pay rise for the next two years
- An increase in the existing “shift premia” to 20% over the next three years
- A promise to increase the number of back up employees
The next strikes are due to take place from 00:01 Tuesday 11 October to 23:59 Thursday 13 October with four other strikes planned upto December 8.