Southern Rail talks collapse again

THE COMPANY behind Southern Rail, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), last Monday dismissed out of hand a set of proposals from the RMT transport union to resolve the current dispute over keeping fully trained guards on all trains.

These proposals included:

The talks started last week as RMT cut short a five-day strike on Southern Rail after GTR agreed to continue talks at ACAS. The union is now debating further industrial action.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “We are releasing the full details of our ACAS proposals so that the travelling public can see that RMT was making every possible effort to ensure a positive outcome in these talks.

“Our proposals covered all the three main areas requiring agreement to allow us to move forwards and we are bitterly disappointed that they have been rejected out of hand. We know that the public who use these services will share our anger and frustration.”

The RMT executive met on Tuesday afternoon to consider the next move. Mick Cash said; “We had a golden opportunity in these talks to make some serious progress on the core issue of a second person on the train who would have protected the safety of passengers, delivered customer service and ensured access to services for those with disabilities or needing assistance.

“It’s a bitter blow that a firm set of union proposals that could have allowed us to move forward were rejected out of hand. The matter will be discussed by the union executive this afternoon.”

The breakdown of the talks coincided with an announcement from the Government that rail fares are to rise by two per cent from next January.

RMT members, other rail unions and members of passenger groups, who together comprise Action for Rail, were out in force early on Tuesday morning at stations, including London Bridge and Newcastle, with leaflets and banners proclaiming: “Cut fares, not staff.”

Rail fares have increased at double the speed of wages since 2010, research by trade unions suggests. Fares have risen by 25 per cent in the past six years, whilst average weekly earnings have grown by 12 per cent, analysis by the TUC and the Action for Rail campaign shows.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that rail passengers were “paying more and getting even less”, and called for rail services to be nationalised. “Fares go up while trains remain overcrowded, stations are unstaffed, and rail companies cut the guards who ensure journeys run smoothly and safely.

“It’s time for rail services to be publicly owned, saving money for passengers and taxpayers alike.”

The Campaign for Better Transport, which said the latest increase was a “real slap in the face to long-suffering commuters”, reiterated its call for the retail price index (RPI) to be scrapped as the measure for fare increases.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA), said that private profit was being placed above rail safety.

“Our rail fares are already the highest in Europe and today’s increases will only make that record worse,” he added. “It’s time that ministers gave rail passengers a break and actually froze fares in real terms.”

RMT members employed by Virgin Trains East Coast are to stage three 24-hour strikes later this month, including one on Bank Holiday Monday.

Members will walk out from 3am on 19th, 26th and 29th August, and ban overtime for 48 hours from 27th August, in a row over cuts, work conditions and safety after they voted by 84 per cent in favour of strike action.

Once again, the role of safety-trained guards is at the heart of the dispute. The RMT said the dispute involved about 1,800 members, saying Virgin Trains was trying to “bulldoze” through changes.

Virgin claimed its timetable will be “unaffected” during the walkouts. The firm — which operates services to London, Edinburgh, Leeds and York — said that it was making changes to customer-facing roles “which will see a single person take responsibility for the customer experience on our trains.”

The RMT has said almost 200 jobs are under threat on the train line. It said train guards, station staff and some drivers were set to take part in the walkouts. Depot maintenance workers will not be taking strike action.

Mick Cash said that members would “not tolerate the cavalier attitude to safety that is now on show as the company mobilises its scab army of managers.” He added: “The company have chosen to treat the negotiations as a game thus far, merely going through the motions of pretending they did not yet know what their plans entailed. To behave like that is to treat the union and its members with pure contempt.”