The start of an autumn of railway strikes next week is still on after talks between the RMT and Southern broke down this lunchtime.
The long running dispute is over the introduction of driver-only operated trains and the subsequent downgrading of the guard’s role, which the union says raises safety issues.
A series of five strikes totalling 14 days has been called from October to December, starting with a three day walkout next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
They are the latest in a long line of strikes which started in April. Following today’s breakdown, Southern’s parent company GTR said it will now press on with making the changes to the role, terminating guards’ contracts and automatically transferring them to the new roles – should they want them.
Mick Cash, RMT General Secretary said: “The union is angry and disappointed that a fresh set of proposals put forward by the union today that address both our issues and the company agenda have been rejected out of hand with barely a cursory glance. The travelling public will be rightly angry that the company have kicked back in our faces a chance to resolve this long-running dispute.
“There was a real chance of getting a negotiated solution on track today but Southern have not only slammed the door on that but they have also rejected RMT’s offer to draft in ACAS immediately to try and close the gap and broker a settlement. That is scandalous.
“This week we have seen Southern launch a botched attempt to incite the public against their front line workforce. Today that same company have shown that they have no interest in negotiating with the staff union and are hell-bent on having a punch up with the rail workers who keep the travelling public safe.
“Attempts to bribe and bully the Southern Rail staff with the threat of the sack leave an indelible stain on Britain’s railways. The union now awaits confirmation on exactly what the company propose to do next and we will be taking guidance, and offering our members advice, once we know exactly what Southern’s intentions are.”
Charles Horton, CEO of GTR, said: “I’m deeply disappointed that the RMT leadership have rejected our offer – their counter-proposal didn’t come anywhere near our goals of modernising our train service for the benefit of passengers. All they have offered is a superficial rebadging of the conductors as on-board supervisors in name only.
“What the RMT want to do is retain their power and control by insisting that our trains cannot run under any circumstances without a conductor on board, leading to more delays and cancellations.
“I am incredibly sorry about the months of misery our passengers have suffered. Our aim is to make a significant change to put services back on track and get our passengers where they want, safely and on time.
“We will now press ahead with our plans to modernise services to give customers what they expect and deserve – a train service fit for the 21st century.”
The RMT says that driver-only operated trains are unsafe as they could lead to situations where the driver is the only member of staff on board. But GTR says that independent safety experts have ruled it safe, and more than 100 services are already operating in this way.
It also says every train which currently has a guard will still have at least one second member of staff on board.
GTR also criticised the RMT for not asking its members about a new offer made two months ago, of a guaranteed job until 2021 with above-inflation pay rises and guaranteed overtime plus a £2,000 payment.
However, the RMT said GTR had refused to bring in ACAS to resolve the issue, and that GTR had rejected its proposals to change the role to on-board supervisor while retaining safety training and guaranteeing each train running would have one on board.
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