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Fresh disruption for rail passengers as more guards strikes called

The guards dispute has been raging for two years, with little sign of a breakthrough.

Rail passengers face fresh disruption after more strikes were called in the long-running dispute over the role of guards on trains.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union on Arriva Rail North, Greater Anglia and South Western Railway (SWR) will strike for 24 hours on May 9 and again on May 11, 14, 16 and 18 just on SWR.

The announcement was made at a protest in Westminster to mark the second anniversary of the dispute, which started on Southern Railway.

No fresh walkouts were announced on Southern or on Merseyrail, where talks are being held to try to break the deadlocked row.

Hundreds of RMT members, disability campaigners and passengers joined the Westminster demonstration, which was followed by a lobby of MPs.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Yet again the intransigence of private rail companies operating in England over the key issue of the guard guarantee means that we have no option but to announce further strike action in the separate disputes on Arriva Rail North, Greater Anglia and South Western Railway.

“With RMT members protesting outside Parliament today we are drawing attention to the ludicrous situation that means we are able to reach agreements in Wales and Scotland on the guard guarantee but not on a raft of key franchises in England.

“If it’s good enough for Wales and Scotland to put rail safety first then it should be good enough for the rest of Britain.

“We have long detected the dead hand of the Government interfering to stop us reaching negotiated settlements in the current disputes and it’s about time Chris Grayling stopped playing politics with passenger safety and started taking the issue seriously.”

The RMT has criticised Mr Grayling for not convening tripartite talks to try to resolve the dispute.

Our members are resolute and determined to carry on RMT general secretary Mick Cash

Mr Cash added: “I am flabbergasted that after two years, the Transport Secretary has not sat down with us and the train companies to try to find a way of resolving this.

“Our members are resolute and determined to carry on because they believe in the cause of retaining guards on trains in the interests of safety. Passengers and disability groups agree with us.”

Jamie Burles, Greater Anglia managing director, said: “We are very disappointed that the RMT has announced a further strike on Wednesday May 9. We’d like to reassure customers that we will be running a full service on this day, using our contingency conductors.

“In recent weeks, we have had some constructive talks with RMT union officials and offered a proposal which we hoped would resolve this issue. Unfortunately, the RMT has rejected it.

“Our position remains the same: We highly value our conductors, we’re keeping them on our trains, but we want them to concentrate on customer service rather than opening and closing doors.

“We will continue to talk to the RMT to try to find an acceptable solution.”

Richard Allan, Arriva Rail North’s deputy managing director, said: “Our modernisation plans are well under way with almost £500 million of new trains under construction, 90 refurbished trains in service, £8 million spent so far on improving our stations, extra services from May, and much more to come by 2020.

“We urge RMT to move away from its nationally co-ordinated campaign and allow its local representatives to engage in meaningful discussions with us on how we better serve customers on-board.

“We are still prepared to offer unprecedented guarantees of jobs and pay reviews until the end of our franchise in 2025, with the Government guaranteeing jobs beyond that, but both guarantees depend on RMT ending its strike action.”

A South Western Railway spokesman said: “We will do everything we can to minimise the effect of these RMT strikes on our customers.

“Our priority remains to get on with the job of delivering a better railway, working with our industry partners to deliver new trains, more capacity and better performance.

“We have given repeated assurances that we plan to retain a second person on our trains, that there will be more jobs, not less and have guaranteed people’s terms and conditions. This strike is unnecessary and was supported by less than half of our guards.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The RMT’s continuing industrial action is pointless, as the train operators are working hard to minimise the impact this has on passengers.

“This dispute is not about jobs or safety. Guards have been guaranteed their jobs and the independent rail regulator has ruled that driver-controlled trains, which have been used in this country for 30 years, are safe.

“We urge the union to abandon these strikes and work with train operators to improve services for passengers.”

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