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Drivers to vote on deal between Southern Railway and Aslef

A deal to end a bitter dispute between Southern Railway and Aslef over driver-only trains has been agreed.

The two sides have been holding lengthy talks in a bid to resolve a long-running row which sparked a series of strikes.

Around 1,000 drivers will now vote on the deal, bringing some relief to passengers who have suffered months of disruption because of industrial action and staff shortages.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union is still in dispute with Southern over changes to the role of conductors.

The RMT announced it is to ballot workers on Merseyrail for industrial action over the role of guards.

Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the TUC, and Andy Meadows, of rail firm Abellio, who chaired the talks, said: "The negotiators from both sides have worked hard and co-operatively to achieve this breakthrough.

"This long-running dispute has clearly been extraordinarily difficult for both staff and passengers, and we are glad that the parties have reached agreement on a way forward."

Ms O'Grady added: "I welcome the decision of Aslef to consult its members on the new offer that has now been made by GTR Southern. The TUC is pleased that we were able to play a part in finding a positive way forward."

Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, said: "I am pleased that we have finally been able to reach an agreement with the company which reflects the concerns of train drivers. I believe this deal can deliver a safer and appropriately staffed railway for passengers on Southern rail and I will be recommending it to Aslef members."

Nick Brown, chief operating officer of Southern's owners Govia Thameslink Railway, said: "Our aim has always been to reach agreement with the unions on our proposals and we're delighted to have secured a deal today with Aslef to end their dispute.

"It's good news for passengers, the regional economy and staff. After the misery and disruption to people's work and family lives, we are pleased we can start to move forward and deliver a better railway for the travelling public."

Mr Brown added: "We are ready, willing and able to meet with the RMT."

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: "I'm very pleased that Aslef and Southern have reached an agreement. I think it's good news for passengers.

"I'm very grateful to those who have been involved, from the TUC and the help they've provided, to the HR director of Abellio who has been a real help in making this possible.

"We now need to concentrate on getting this railway back to normal, sorting out other challenges, but I hope this means passengers are going to start to see things operate on a normal basis again."

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "RMT was not party to the talks brokered by the TUC with GTR.

"As a result of that we have no details whatsoever on any deal that has been agreed by the parties who were granted a seat at the table.

"Consequently, we have no information on what impact any deal that may have been reached will have on nearly 500 guards who have been involved in an industrial dispute over safety for the best part of a year. That is an appalling way for that group of workers to be treated.

"RMT's dispute remains on.

"The union is aware of the offer of further talks from the company.

"Once we have the full details of the deal that has been struck today, and an assurance that the terms of reference of those talks will focus on the retention of a second safety-critical member of staff on Southern services, we can agree an immediate date for negotiations to commence."

Andy McDonald, shadow transport secretary said: "This is great news. While the full details are yet to emerge, it is essential that any safety concerns have been comprehensively addressed and resolved.

"Sadly, trust between Southern management and the workforce has reached an all-time low, but hopefully this agreement marks the beginning of a more inclusive way of conducting industrial relations in the future.

"Southern's long suffering passengers will be delighted at this news, but equally they need to see the appalling standards of service, which they have endured for far too long, greatly improve, and do so quickly."

GTR chief executive Charles Horton said in a message to staff: "Our aim has always been to reach agreement with the unions on our modernisation programme and we're delighted to have secured a deal today with Aslef.

"It's good news for passengers, the regional economy and staff. After the misery and disruption to people's work and family lives, we are pleased we can make more progress to deliver a better railway for the travelling public.

"We have secured a deal that: a) the Aslef Executive Committee has agreed and is recommending to its members b) protects our modernisation programme for the extension of DOO (driver-only operation) and the new OBS (on board supervisor) role which we've now implemented and is retained going forward as part of this agreement.

"Both parties agree that the overriding aims are for a safe, well-staffed railway and to maintain the integrity and resilience of the service for the benefit of the greatest number of passengers. In short - more services, fewer delays and cancellations and an overall better railway."

Mr Whelan told the Press Association there was no extra pay involved in the deal.

He said the agreement would lead to Southern services being safer.

He added that the deal was not a template for arrangements Aslef has with other train companies.

Letters explaining the agreement will be posted to Aslef members on Friday along with ballot papers, with the result due in mid February.

Mr Cash said later: "RMT understands that central to the agreement with Aslef is a guarantee of a second person on the train.

"We also understand that the implementation of that aspect of the agreement is subject to further discussions and negotiations with RMT around the safety competencies of that second member of staff.

"It is now essential that we open up urgent discussions with GTR around this core issue of the second safety-critical staff member, and the details of their future role, that will allow us all to move forwards. RMT is available for those talks with immediate effect."


From Belfast Telegraph