Belfast Telegraph

Fresh strike action at three train operators set for May 30

Workers at three train operators will stage a fresh 24-hour strike on the same day in the bitter disputes over staffing and driver-only trains.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union at Southern Railway, Merseyrail and Arriva Rail North will walk out on May 30, the day after the next Bank Holiday.

The Southern dispute started over a year ago, with RMT members having already taken 31 days of strike action, while previous stoppages have also hit Merseyrail and Arriva Rail North over plans for driver-controlled operation on new trains being introduced in 2020.

Talks were held on Monday between the RMT and Southern, without any breakthrough to the row over changes to the role of conductors to on-board supervisors (OBS).

The union said it had been told by the company that more than 8,200 trains a year will run without an OBS on board.

General secretary Mick Cash said: "RMT members on Southern Rail have been fighting for safety and access to rail services for over a year now. We have met with the company but there is a massive gap of over 8,000 trains a year the company has confirmed will run without an OBS on board.

"That represents a serious safety and accessibility risk and short of the guarantee of a second safety qualified member of staff on Southern services we have no option but to confirm a further day of strike action.

"It is now down to Southern, and the contract holders in the Government, to face up to their responsibilities and engage in genuine and serious talks that address our issues."

The RMT accused Merseyrail and Arriva Rail North of rejecting attempts to resolve the disputes over driver-controlled trains due to come into service in 2020.

Mr Cash said the RMT had proposed to Merseyrail that a safety working group be set up to discuss the principle of having a second, safety-critical person on all trains.

The union had suggested to Arriva that the Department for Transport should be invited to join talks to discuss its plans, but this had also been turned down, said Mr Cash.

Richard Allan, Northern's deputy managing director, said: "It is frustrating for us and our customers that RMT has announced further strike action.

"We urge RMT to get back round the table with us for open-minded, meaningful talks on the role they can play in delivering the modern railway that people of the North want and deserve.

"We want to protect jobs and current pay and, as we have said before, are willing to offer future, annual pay reviews for existing conductors if we can agree a deal.

"RMT's dispute will not be solved by unnecessary strike action, but instead by working with us to deliver the modern trains, services and stations our customers want."

Andy Bindon, human resources director at Govia Thameslink Railway, Southern's parent company, said: "We are hugely disappointed that once again the RMT has called a strike, particularly since we put a further reasonable offer to the union today.

"The RMT's proposals would mean cancelling trains and reducing service levels to our passengers.

"Our service levels are stabilising at the highest we've seen in years and we cannot agree to anything which will jeopardise running trains and the service to our passengers.

"With passenger numbers doubling every 20 years, railway capacity is being addressed by a UK-wide railway modernisation programme that necessitates change.

"We ask the RMT to help us to underpin and maximise train frequency and capacity now and for the future."

Jan Chaudhry-van der Velde, Merseyrail's managing director, said: "Over the last two months, we had several meetings with the RMT.

"In the last one, Merseyrail put forward a number of initiatives, which we were willing to explore through a series of working groups.

"These included having a second member of staff on trains after 8pm.

"Unfortunately, the RMT would not talk about these things unless we committed to a second safety critical person on every single train.

"In other words, it is not us that has turned down the working group, it's the RMT.

"We are disappointed that the RMT is not prepared to budge, but the RMT is stopping us finding a resolution.

"Merseyrail has always been available for substantive, meaningful talks and will continue to be.

"This third day of industrial action will again hit local people and the local economy.

"Our region deserves new trains.

"It should not be a pawn in the RMT's national game."