Belfast Telegraph

Southern, Merseyrail and Arriva Rail North workers to stage fresh strikes

Workers in three rail firms are to stage a series of fresh strikes in bitter disputes over staffing and driver-only trains, threatening fresh disruption for hundreds of thousands of passengers.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union on Southern, Merseyrail and Arriva Rail North will walk out for between one and three days in the coming weeks in an escalation of the deadlocked rows.

Members of the drivers' union Aslef on Southern are being balloted for strikes in a separate dispute over pay.

The announcements were made as a delayed report into Southern said its infrastructure is in "poor and unreliable" condition and all elements of the system have been under strain.

The long-awaited report by Network Rail director Chris Gibb criticised industrial action over the past year, but al so made it clear that the Department for Transport, Southern's owners Govia Thameslink Railway, Network Rail as well as the unions, have been "well aware" of how much strain the system has been under.

RMT members will strike on July 10 on Southern, for three days from July 8 on Arriva Rail North and on July 8, 10 and 23 on Merseyrail, which coincides with the Open golf tournament in Southport, which is served by the company's trains.

General secretary Mick Cash said: "RMT members on Southern Rail have been fighting for safety and access for well over a year now.

"The franchise continues to lurch from crisis to crisis as the real impact of hacking back on safety and access hits home.

"We have seen absolute chaos at Victoria and East Croydon this week in the hot weather which has reinforced the need for safety critical staff on our trains and platforms.

"The Government cannot spin their way out of this chaotic situation which is wholly of their making."

Mr Cash said the RMT was "angry and frustrated" at the lack of progress in disputes about staffing on new trains on Merseyrail and Arriva, adding that the public supported having a guard on trains.

Richard Allan, Northern's deputy managing director, said: "We are deeply disappointed and hugely frustrated that RMT is choosing to cause more pain for our colleagues and customers rather than get round the table to talk first.

"Only this week we wrote to RMT again, urging them to engage in meaningful modernisation talks with us.

"We have been clear that for all our conductors we are prepared to guarantee jobs and current pay, and continue with annual pay reviews, if we can reach agreement with RMT."

Mr Gibb said the RMT and Aslef were the "primary cause" for the system integrity to fail, by taking strike action, declining to work overtime and "generally not supporting and undermining" the system.

He said: "Before this formal action, there were clearly unusually high levels of short-term sickness.

"The action is obviously reducing the service to passengers, but also the needs of every other party in the system.

"If any other part of the system has a fault, the strike and overtime ban magnifies this many times.

"No element of the system is perfect, and it can all improve.

"But I am convinced by what I have seen that if the train crew were to work in the normal manner that they have in previous years, the output of the system, a safe and reliable rail service for passengers, would be delivered in an acceptable manner, which would be similar to other commuter rail services in the South East.

"Their action is undermining the system, and its value to the country that funds it through fares and taxes.

"Whatever their motives, which are debatable, I do not support their action."

Mr Gibb also states that the Government was "already determining the strategic direction" of the driver-only trains dispute.

"Some elements of the system have been considered largely as an afterthought, such as train maintenance depots and stations such as (London) Victoria," says the report.

"On Southern, all elements of the system have been under strain: unreliable infrastructure, a timetable that is very tight and with overcrowded peak services, some key stations that are overcrowded, depots that are full and for historic reasons are in the wrong place, and people involved in informal and formal industrial action.

"The system cannot possibly work to passengers' satisfaction with these components in this state."

A Southern spokesman said: "Once again the RMT is refusing to play its part in the modernisation of the railway.

"Southern is the most congested network in the UK with passenger numbers into London doubling in just 12 years, so modernisation of infrastructure, trains and working practices is essential to provide the service levels passengers need and deserve.

"While we have been willing to negotiate and have made four comprehensive offers, the RMT has not demonstrated any serious intent to resolve its dispute.

"It has not put any of our four offers to its members, including our latest of May 16, to which we've had no formal response.

"This offered guarantees on job security, staffing ratios, rostering and enhanced training."

It will be the union's 32nd day of strike action.

Jan Chaudhry-van der Velde, Merseyrail's managing director, said: " Although we brought several new initiatives to the table in the last round of talks, the RMT is unprepared to work with us to find middle ground.

"As well as guaranteeing a job to all guards who wish to stay at Merseyrail under the same terms and conditions, once the new trains arrive in 2020, we also put on the negotiating table a member of customer service staff on every train after 8pm.

"The strike on July 23 is timed to cause maximum disruption to people attending the last day of the Open Golf at Royal Birkdale.

"At a time of heightened fears of terrorism, it beggars belief that RMT are prepared to disrupt this event and make protection of the crowds more difficult for us and our colleagues in the police and security services.

"They are striking during the weekend (July 8) where Liverpool is proudly hosting the British Style Collective for the first time - an event that's bringing much excitement and profile to the Liverpool City Region."

Transport Minister Paul Maynard said: " We are extremely disappointed that the RMT is calling yet more strikes.

"This is completely unnecessary action that will cause disruption and frustration for passengers across the country.

"The Gibb Report has said that the main cause of widespread disruption on Southern has been union action, including a refusal to work overtime, and unusually high levels of sick leave.

"It's time for the RMT to return to talks and help to deliver the high-quality rail services that passengers deserve."