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Disruption threat as Southern Rail drivers balloted on pay strikes

The drivers’ union Aslef has called for a vote on June 29.

Southern Rail drivers are to be balloted for strikes over pay, threatening disruption at the start of the school holidays.

The company said the drivers’ union Aslef had notified it that voting will start on June 29 and close on July 13, so the first walkout could be on July 27.

Aslef members are due to start a ban on overtime on June 29 in the long-running dispute over driver-only trains, which will cause fresh misery for Southern’s 300,000 passengers.

News of the new ballot came ahead of publication of a long-awaited report for the government into Southern, which has been hit by strikes, staff shortages and other problems for over a year.

The report, by Network Rail director Chris Gibb, will criticise Aslef and the Rail, Maritime and Transport union for the series of strikes they have taken.

The Department for Transport and Southern’s owners Govia Thameslink Railway, will also be criticised.

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The Aslef union has called for a ban on driver overtime (Victoria Jones/PA)

The report, which Mr Gibb gave to the Government last year, will also lay some of the blame on long-term problems such as under-investment.

Southern said it had offered drivers a deal worth over 23% but it will be withdrawn if the overtime ban goes ahead.

A spokesman said: “People will be amazed the Aslef leadership has rejected such a significant pay offer for their members, especially as they have twice before accepted the extension of driver-controlled operation which has now been in place for over six months.”

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A long-running dispute with unions over driver-only trains has disrupted services (Victoria Jones/PA)

Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, has called for the company to be stripped of its franchise for its “failure” to deliver services.

He said: “We have been talking to the company over the last fortnight in parallel, but separate, talks about drivers’ terms and conditions; industrial relations and pay. The company’s failure to engage over driver-only operation is the reason our members will no longer work overtime – which, of course, is entirely voluntary – from June 29.”

Mr Whelan said a pay rise was eight months behind schedule, accusing the company of refusing to negotiate until recently. Aslef and Southern clashed on the impact of overtime, with the union saying the company relies on drivers working voluntary overtime to run at least 25% of its services but Southern insisting it was only 10%.

Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association leader Manuel Cortes said: “Sadly, Gibb has belittled himself by taking the DfT’s shilling and now writes propaganda on behalf of the Tory party.

“The election has just shown that the British public see through such stunts for which the Tories have been punished with loss of seats and swing to Labour in constituencies with Southern Rail services.

“Beleaguered passengers will remain unimpressed at Gibb’s continued and, frankly boring, dragging out of the blame game. Parent company GTR has long lost its grip but the responsibility for the chaos at Southern stops with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling. He should take back control of an abysmal failure by stripping GTR of its franchise.”

A DfT spokesman said: “Chris Gibb’s report sets out the reasons why the Southern rail system faced so many problems last year. But it finds the main cause of widespread disruption was union action and unusually high levels of sick leave.

“The report makes absolutely clear that passengers would have had reliable services had staff come to work as normal – despite the other challenges faced by the network.”

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