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Railway workers to strike on three days as row over role of guards deadlocked

Talks between RMT union and rail companies end without a breakthrough.

Hopes of averting some of the strikes set to cause disruption to rail services next week have collapsed, leaving bitter disputes over the role of guards deadlocked.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) will walk out on Monday, Wednesday and Friday on South Western Railway (SWR), Arriva Rail North (Northern), Merseyrail and Greater Anglia, and on Monday on Southern.

Talks have been held between the union and SWR and Arriva, but they ended without any breakthrough.

(PA Graphics)

Northern said it will run around 1,350 services on strike days, more than half its normal timetable, with most running between 7am and 7pm, while SWR plans to run more than 70% of its normal weekday service.

Andy Mellors, SWR’s managing director, said: “We are sorry that our passengers will once again suffer due to this unnecessary strike action called by the RMT executive.

“Our passengers just want to get to work in the morning and back home on time in the evening to see family and friends.

“We have repeatedly guaranteed that no one will lose their job and that we will roster a second person on board every train.

“However what we have been trying to talk to the RMT about is what happens if a guard is unavailable at short notice, perhaps due to illness or disruption; and how we might keep passengers moving rather than leave them stranded.”

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT, said the union had offered to suspend next week’s strikes if talks could go ahead on guaranteeing a guard, with safety critical competence, on every train.

In a message to union members, he said: “I was concerned at the response from the company which indicated to the union that, come what may, the SWR agenda is to introduce driver-only operation.

“At the meeting it was clear to us that First/MTR (who operate SWR) want to change the operating model so that with the advent of any new trains they can run such trains without the need for a second safety critical guard. In short, no guard’s job is safe.”

The RMT said it was prepared to discuss with companies such as Arriva operational models already established in Scotland and Wales.

Mr Cash said Arriva Rail North simply wanted staff to “surrender” to demands to axe guards from half of its trains regardless of the safety consequences.

Richard Allan, Arriva Rail North’s deputy managing director, said the company was committed to investing in new and updated trains, better stations and faster journeys.

“During talks, Northern again offered to guarantee jobs and pay for conductors for the rest of our franchise to 2025 if we can reach agreement with RMT.

“The Government has also recently written to the union, guaranteeing employment for conductors beyond 2025 if RMT ends its dispute.

“Northern has asked RMT to hold a fresh ballot of conductors to give them a voice, 10 months after RMT started its strike action.

“Conductors at other train companies will get a fresh vote every six months because RMT’s disputes at those companies started under new legislation.

“Northern is concentrating on running as many services as possible for customers on the next RMT strike days.”

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