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Southern passengers facing more misery with RMT strike in ticket offices row

Train passengers are facing fresh travel chaos after the RMT union announced that w orkers at Govia Thameslink Railway, including Southern, will strike on September 7 in protest at ticket office closures.

The strike will coincide with a walkout by RMT members on Southern in the long-running row over the role of guards.

The union is also in dispute with Southern's owner GTR, which also operates the Gatwick Express, Thameslink and Great Northern, over plans to close scores of ticket offices.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "The Govia Thamelink franchise is in meltdown and not fit for purpose. Not content with axing catering services, closing ticket offices and attacking the role of their guards, they now want to threaten 130 station jobs and compromise the safety of both their passengers and staff alike.

"Our members have made it clear that they will not stand by while this basket-case franchise unleashes yet another attack on jobs and services in the drive for profits and that is why we have no option but to take strike action.

"These cuts plans fly in the face of the response from the thousands of passengers who objected to the closure of ticket offices and the de-staffing of stations as Govia drives on with plans for a 'faceless railway' where the public are left to fend for themselves on rammed-out, dangerous and unreliable services.

"It is about time Govia Thameslink started acting responsibly, halted their cuts plans and got round the table with the union in serious and genuine talks."

The announcement follows a 70% vote for strike action in a ballot of members.

GTR's proposed reorganisation of station staff would see the creation of a new role of Station Host, which the RMT said would lead to the closure of or reduced hours at 83 ticket offices.

A union statement said: "RMT is totally opposed to ticket office closures, and cuts in hours, as this will have a devastating impact on both staff and the safety and services offered to the travelling public. The latest proposals from the company will also result in a massive increase in lone working, including late at night.

"GTR are also totally ignoring the thousands of passengers who clearly indicated in our high-profile public campaign that they are appalled by the planned closure of ticket offices and the swingeing cuts to opening hours.

"They have failed to address the views of station staff and have ignored the objections from RMT and our sister rail unions. If these changes come in, the union believes it will mean all station staff could be forced on to flexible working with an increased workload."

Southern called on the RMT to call off the 48-hour guards' strike on September 7 and 8 and return to talks.

Passenger Services Director Alex Foulds said: "We've had a summer of travel chaos for hundreds of thousands of people and they are now proposing yet more misery and disruption in the week when people go back to work and back to school.

"This futile dispute is not about safety and no-one is losing their jobs or taking a pay cut.

"The fact is we are creating good jobs - jobs that attracted over 850 inquiries within 24 hours of being advertised, with good terms and conditions.

"We've made a fair and comprehensive offer and perhaps it's an offer that the RMT should put to their members to consider.

"Customers are expecting and demanding that we both make every conceivable effort to find a way forward.

"For our part we remain ready, willing and able to do that and we'll clear the diary to try and sort it.

"We have an open mind to all options that lead to the implementation of our proposal to introduce the new on-board roles on our trains and enhance the services we want to provide our customers."

Mr Cash said: "RMT is committed to serious and genuine talks and has been right from the moment that the proposals on the guards on Southern were first unveiled.

"That position has not changed and we remain committed to getting back round the table with the company in proper negotiations.

"That talks process has been repeatedly undermined by Southern trying to bind us into a set of rigid pre-conditions.

"A major obstacle to progress now is the fact that Southern fired the starting gun on the dash to Driver Only Operation at the weekend.

"We would call on the company to row back, get back round the table and allow talks to take place without preconditions and without the immediate threat to their safety-critical role hanging over our members' heads."

Alex Foulds added: "This is a cynical and deliberate stunt by the RMT to try and bring our trains to a standstill by co-ordinating strike action on two fronts on the same day to cause maximum disruption, delay and damage to our passengers' everyday lives and the economy.

"The RMT leadership is playing politics with innocent people who are simply seeking to go about their business with employers, family and friends. It is a shameful and pitiful act and shows everyone their true colours and motivation, come what may and whoever they hurt.

"During face-to-face discussions with local union officials from the RMT and TSSA last Monday, we took our original proposals off the table, and agreed new proposals with them - a six months pilot at eight stations using volunteer staff to test the new station host role. It was a very productive meeting and the RMT officials present were content to put the revised pilot proposal forward to the RMT leadership for endorsement.

"We are therefore perplexed that they have decided to call this strike day in protest at proposals that no longer exist and when a solution had been found. The only conclusion is they are determined to strike even if there is no longer any justification.

"The station staff who voted in this ballot may now be asking, like us, why there is no mention of the revised pilot proposals in their statement today. They have ignored the will of their members, with only one in four voting for strike action and are now attempting to drag station staff out on strike over proposals which we have already withdrawn.

"These pilots would be manned by volunteers on a secondment basis and would allow concerns around personal safety and cash handling to be addressed. Staff would keep their jobs, get more money and many would work fewer hours.

"To call a strike over proposals that no longer exist is a stunning own goal by the RMT leadership."

Rail Minister Paul Maynard said: "It is unacceptable that the unions are yet again disrupting passengers' daily lives with unjustified strikes. The travelling public must not be held to ransom. This is about modernising services for passengers, and I expect them to get back to the table and resolve these pointless disputes with GTR."

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and Network Rail, said: "This latest strike action will cause yet more misery for passengers. There has been a major change in the way that people buy train tickets, with only one in three now bought from station ticket offices with a big increase in the use of ticket machines, websites and smartcards.

"The rail industry is making paying to travel by train simpler and smarter to benefit all our customers and we will ensure everyone can continue to use the railway. The rail industry must be able to modernise to provide passengers with the better service they demand and deserve."


From Belfast Telegraph