By Phil Marsh

Southern strike goes ahead as new employment conditions imposed on Guards after last ditch negotiations with the RMT fail.

Published: 10th October 2016

Department for Transport behind battle for supremacy with the RMT Union?

Strike-hit Southern Railway has decided that it will impose its plans to modernise its services after the RMT union rejected its offer to settle the six-month-old dispute and the last set of talks ended without success.

They said:

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. “

What is the dispute about? – a brief reminder

Owners of the Sothern franchise, Greater Thameslink Railway (GTR) wish to abolish the role of Guards on new trains made possible with the plethora of safety equipment they carry. The rail industry safety authorities along with GTR say it is perfectly safe for the driver to have sole responsibility for the operation of a modern train which is what their training covers. A third of the trains in the UK operate without a Guard. If it wasn’t deemed safe, the Office of Rail and Road would prohibit the operation.

Once more into the breach…

GTR clearly has the backing of the Department for Transport (DFT) on this issue as otherwise they would have put GTR in breach of their franchise agreement so far as cancellations and delays are concerned. The train company has clearly said that there will be a second person on every single train that has one today as a minimum and will be safety- trained plus ready to help passengers with all their needs.

GTR says that the RMT senior leaders asked them to roll back improvements already made such as the 80 people in its new on board supervisor roles, working on trains where conductor had never worked before, and over 100 additional services are now operating with the driver in sole charge of the train.

£2000 bonus for signing up

For the last two months GTR has guaranteed staff a job until 2021 with above-inflation pay rises plus guaranteed levels of overtime. GTR improved that offer in October offering a £2,000 payment to all those in the new role in January. GTR claims that RMT leadership did not put this fresh proposal to conductors to vote on but merely rejected that offer before the final set of negotiations last week.

The final offer

GTR’s 8 point offer included guarantees that every train currently operated with a conductor will continue to have a second member of staff on board who will be trained to a ‘safety competent’ level. The offer is on top of previous assurances given to conductors, including guarantee of a job until at least 2021, no compulsory redundancies and no reduction in salary.

In its letter to the union GTR offered to make a lump sum payment of £2,000 to all continuing conductors, and all conductors and revenue employees transferring to the new On Board Supervisor (OBS) role, for their co-operation in the implementation and operation of its proposals.

GTR today informed the RMT that it will now implement its proposals and letters will be sent to conductors terminating their existing contracts and inviting them to sign up to the new OBS role, to be effective from 1 January 2017. Other letters will go to those conductors who have already volunteered to take up the new role and to conductors whose jobs will not be changing.

Agreement but strike action carries on

It was reported in the 9 October Sunday Times that the RMT instructed its conductor members to accept the OBS role, but to continue with strike action, Charles Horton, CEO of Govia Thameslink Railway, Southern's parent company, said:

“It is welcome that the RMT has finally seen sense and recommended their members take the excellent roles on offer. They reject an offer one day, tell conductors to sign up to the role the next, but then still issue a clarion call to strike about it a few days later. Their own union has lost them each a £2,000 bonus which was on offer last Thursday only to tell them to sign-up 24 hours later. Their mandate, like their position on this six months old dispute, is built on quicksand.

"Now to go ahead with these strikes just days after telling conductors to accept our offer sets new standards in union militancy. They don't care that hundreds of thousands of commuters will face yet more travel misery this week; it's clear this is all about the union trying to hang on to power and control.

More trains and buses for the strike days

Southern has announced that over 60% of their trains will be operating on the strike this week and nearly all of their 156 managed stations would have either a train or bus service of some description on the strike days of 11/12/13 October. Many routes will have trains running later in the day than on previous occasions with 80 more trains running than on other strike days. But only a restricted service will operate on many routes with some where no train services will run. The improvements on previous strike dates are:

  • Two peak trains between Uckfield and London Bridge in the morning, with two returning in the late afternoon, supplemented by buses connecting Uckfield, Buxted, Crowborough and Eridge with Tunbridge Wells and Haywards Heath (for rail connections to/from London), where previously there were none
  • A reduced train service between Dorking and Horsham where previously there was none
  • Later services to Redhill
  • Later services on the London Bridge to East Grinstead route
  • Later services on the Brighton to Eastbourne route
  • Buses between Chichester and Havant
  • Buses between Hastings and Eastbourne
  • Buses between Redhill and Tonbridge – during peak hours only
  • Buses all day between Ashford International and Hastings

Railway politics

This is really a battle that the DfT cannot afford to lose because of the amount of new trains on order. The driver only operation dispute will be extended to the Virgin East Coast and Great Western mainlines as the Hitachi new trains are introduced. This is why the DfT is supporting the train companies behind the scenes. And the Union knows this is a highly public way of attacking the Government, using rail as its excuse.

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