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Series of rail strikes in December to go ahead after talks collapse

Members of the RMT union on South Western Railway will take 27 days of industrial action from next Monday.

A near month-long strike by rail workers is set to go ahead after talks failed to resolve a long-running dispute over guards on trains (Victoria Jones/PA)
A near month-long strike by rail workers is set to go ahead after talks failed to resolve a long-running dispute over guards on trains (Victoria Jones/PA)

By Alan Jones, PA Industrial Correspondent

Strikes by workers on South Western Railway throughout December will go ahead after talks over the guards on trains dispute collapsed.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union will walk out next Monday and take 27 days of industrial action.

The strikes will cause travel disruption for commuters, Christmas shoppers and people visiting families over the festive break.

Talks were held over the past two days at the conciliation service Acas but ended without agreement.

The union accused the company of “wrecking” attempts to reach a deal in the long-running row over the role of guards on trains.

The RMT said the company “point-blank refused” to show any serious movement at the Acas talks, adding it had set out proposals ensuring that the guard had an “integral and guaranteed role” which would have cost nothing but which would have guaranteed the safest method of operation.

There is no rational explanation for the company position Mick Cash, RMT general secretary

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT is angry and frustrated that a set of proposals that would have guaranteed the safety-critical role of the guard at the point of despatch, and which would have cost the company absolutely nothing, have been kicked back in our faces.

“There is no rational explanation for the company position and we can only assume that either they or their paymasters in Government want this strike action to go ahead for politically motivated purposes.

“The union also believes that cutting the guard out of the despatch process reduces the second person on the train to little more than a passenger in the longer term which would give the company the option of axing them altogether at some point down the line.

“Both the union and the travelling public are being set up and that stinks.

“Our action goes ahead from Monday in defence of passenger safety and accessibility and the blame for that lies wholly with SWR and their wrecking strategy.

“The union remains available for talks and we have a deal to solve this dispute which is cost-free for SWR, worked up and ready to go. The company should grab it with both hands and avoid the disruption to services their actions will unleash.”

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SWR has told passengers it had done everything it could to try to avert the strikes (Gareth Fuller/PA)

An SWR spokesman said: “We have done everything we can and more to meet the RMT’s outdated demands with our promise of a guard on every train, and a safety critical role for that guard.

“What we are not prepared to compromise on is the much needed modernisation of the service with improved performance, safety and customer service that our new fleet of modern suburban trains will vitally deliver for customers.

“We know our passengers will welcome over 10 million more passenger journeys a year arriving on time and this much needed improvement to our service is too important to compromise.

“Throughout negotiations we have tried repeatedly to find ways meet the RMT’s aspirations. However, every time we find a way forward on one point the union has moved the goalposts by changing its position.

“They said at the outset this was about keeping the guard on the train, that is exactly what we have offered. They said they wanted a safety critical role for that guard, that is what we have offered.

“Unfortunately it is clear to us that the RMT is unclear on what this dispute is about and intent on striking no matter what. We know the impact these RMT strikes will have on our passengers and we want to be clear that we have done everything we can to try and avert the strikes and meet RMT’s antiquated and changing demands.”

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Yet more strikes are being dumped on passengers who may have to cancel Christmas holiday plans or endure miserable journeys to work. This dispute has dragged on for far too long and is damaging trust in the railway.

“Passengers have had enough of the ongoing industrial action on South Western Railway services. They have faced lost time, money, more driving and deep frustration at not being able to rely on the trains.

“It is vital that the parties in this dispute get back around the table to urgently resolve it without bringing the railway to a standstill.”

PA

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