Belfast Telegraph

Southern Railway staff to strike as conductors row continues

Rail passengers face more travel misery after the failure of a fresh attempt to break the deadlock in a bitter row over the role of conductors.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Southern Railway will walk out for three days from midnight, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of trains.

Southern stepped up calls for the union to put its offer to a referendum, saying a £2,000 lump sum was back on the table if they do.

The company also claimed that increasing numbers of conductors were working during industrial action, saying 27% turned up last week despite a three-day stoppage.

The union described the offer as a "bribe", saying it did not move the dispute forward "a single inch", and disputed "bogus" figures on the number of staff working during strikes.

Southern said it planned to run 61% of its normal timetable during this week's strikes instead of the usual 2,242 trains a day.

Some stations will not be served by trains, but replacement buses will again be provided.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash denied a new offer had been made, saying safety and access issues remained at the heart of the dispute.

"Southern have rehashed the £2,000 bribe to our members even though the company have been told repeatedly that money is not the issue and that the safety of passengers and staff is not for sale.

"RMT disputes the bogus figures on the number of staff working. Our reps at all locations report that morale is high and that support for the strike action remains rock solid."

Charles Horton, chief executive of Southern's owner, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), said: "The RMT needs to reflect on the hardship, distress and frustration being experienced by our customers and employees.

"There have been significant developments since the union tabled the original ballot to conductors over six months ago.

"In order to move things forward, I am asking the union to let conductors - the people at the heart of this matter - determine whether this dispute comes to an end or continues."

GTR human resources director Andy Bindon said in a letter to Mr Cash: "Given the RMT's democratic credentials and pride in being a member-led union, the fundamental changes made since March, both overall and in the RMT's position and in the absence of our being able to secure a negotiated settlement, you cannot have any reasonable grounds for refusing your members a vote."

The dispute, which has seen 12 days of strikes since April, has brought "disruption and misery" to passengers, he said, adding that the offer aimed at breaking the deadlock contained "unprecedented" guarantees and assurances.

Mr Bindon said the RMT's position has changed following the union's decision to advise conductors to accept new contracts moving them to new posts of on-board supervisors.

Mr Bindon said: "The fact is, that we are now implementing the changes we need to make to our train services and on-board roles in order to modernise our service and improve our customers' experience. These changes will happen, as is recognised by your advice to members to sign their contracts.

"Our employees and customers are therefore struggling to understand the statements made by some of your officials that strikes will continue into the new year, once the changes are implemented. No-one is losing a job, no-one is losing pay, guarantees have been given on numbers employed; it is a safe method of operation."