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Southern Railway strikes to go ahead after conductor dispute talks fail

Published 06/10/2016

The RMT will put forward new proposals in the dispute with Southern Railway.
The RMT will put forward new proposals in the dispute with Southern Railway.

Southern Railway passengers are facing fresh travel chaos after t alks aimed at resolving a bitter row over the role of conductors collapsed.

Leaders of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union spent more than three hours meeting company officials to try to break the deadlock, accusing the train operator of rejecting "perfectly reasonable" proposals it had put forward.

A series of 14 days of strikes will now be held, starting with a three-day walkout from next Tuesday.

Both sides continued to blame each other for the dispute, which is now set to escalate, causing more misery for passengers, who have endured months of disruption because of the strikes, staff shortages and other problems.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "The union is angry and disappointed that a fresh set of proposals put forward 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."

The RMT said its proposals would allow conductors to move to the new role of on-board supervisor (OBS), addressing the issue at the heart of Southern's implementation plans.

For an agreed transitional period, the OBS role would retain all of the current safety competencies and requirements of the conductor, said the union.

Mr Cash said the union had "tried its damnedest" to break the deadlock but accused Southern of refusing to move.

Charles Horton, chief executive of Southern's owners Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), said he was "deeply disappointed" that the RMT leaders had rejected a final offer, which included a £2,000 payment for affected conductors.

"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."

GTR said it will now write to conductors terminating their contracts and inviting them to sign up to the new OBS role, effective from January 1.

Rail minister Paul Maynard said: "It is disappointing that union leaders have continually rejected a deal that protects jobs and ensures that conductors will carry on delivering a safe, accessible and more reliable rail service.

"Passengers will once again face needless and unjustified disruption from strike action as the unions continue to try to prevent the delivery of a modern railway."

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: "By throwing out the prospect of an Acas-brokered settlement to this dispute, Southern again downplay the importance of critical staff to passenger safety and accessibility on our overcrowded rail network.

"The deal reached between ScotRail and the RMT is a template for agreement on Southern but the employer has decided to further risk passenger safety, job security and industrial relations, instead of finding a workable agreement."

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