Light has finally been spotted at the end of the Southern tunnel as train drivers vote to accept the latest deal struck between their union and rail bosses.
The latest ballot results were announced by the Aslef union this afternoon, with 79.1% of drivers endorsing the deal on an 87.1% turnout.
The deal is the third reached between Aslef and Southern Rail, with the first two being rejected, reportedly because of concerns over the number of exceptions to the rule that on board supervisors must be on board every train.
However, the on board supervisors themselves, who are represented by the RMT union, are currently on the first of their latest two-day walkout over the same issue.
Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, said: “Our members on Southern, after careful consideration, and long and hard negotiations, have voted to accept this resolution to our industrial dispute with the company.
“We are pleased with a resolution which, we believe, works for the staff, and the company, and we now look forward to working with Southern Rail to restore good industrial relations and deliver the service passengers in the region deserve.’
The resolution to this dispute, which began in April last year, deals with three outstanding issues. In separate, but parallel, talks our negotiating team discussed three different issues – the industrial dispute, terms and conditions, and pay.
Mr Whelan said: ‘The agreement means we will have a second safety-trained person on every train covered by this agreement except in exceptional circumstances. That person will have all the relevant safety competence – including the skills to evacuate passengers in an emergency.
“The agreement also confirms the terms and conditions under which our members at Southern are employed.
“And the agreement gives our drivers the security of a five-year pay deal, which covers the October 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 pay settlements, through to the end of the franchise.”
Nick Brown, Chief Operating Officer, Govia Thameslink Railway, said: “This dispute has been difficult for our passengers in particular and we are pleased that we can now move ahead and deliver stability by finally concluding this deal with Aslef.
“Our trains will be planned to have a second person on board and this has been the arrangement we have operated over the last year. More on-train staff are on more trains with more passengers than ever before. The on-board service concept has been welcomed by our passengers across the board.
“Should, in certain circumstances, a train not have that second person on board then it will still be able to run until a replacement can be provided. Avoiding cancellations is key to us delivering a resilient and reliable service across the busiest and most congested part of the UK rail network.
“Driver Only Operation has been operating safely for 32 years and now accounts for over a third of the UK rail network.”
However, Aslef warned that the deal only applies to Southern Rail, and that it does not have implications for other train operating companies – many of which are also introducing driver only operation.
Mr Whelan added: “It’s important to stress that this deal is company-specific and does not have implications for any other train operating company on Britain’s railway network.
“Since the break-up of British Rail and the privatisation of our railway we have negotiated on a bi-lateral basis with each company and that is what we have done here.
“After one and a half years of industrial strife we wanted to find a way forward for our members who work on the railway in this region, for the passengers who use Southern trains, and for the businesses which depend on the service, as well as for the company, too. This deal is a resolution to an 18 month long dispute. It is not a template for Britain’s railway in the 21st century.”
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