The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 24th February 2017

ASLEF drivers reject their leaders’ sell-out deal

MEMBERS of the train drivers’ union ASLEF last week rejected a sell-out deal negotiated with Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) — the owners of Southern Rail — and supported by the TUC that would have conceded everything the management was aiming to achieve on the issue of operating trains with no guards or on-board supervisors (OBSs).

The deal would also have abandoned solidarity with their fellow rail union RMT, which represents hundreds of guards and is holding its ground in this long-running battle.

The drivers voted decisively by 54 per cent to 45.9 per cent, with a 72.7 per cent turn-out.

RMT members were relieved to know that their ASLEF colleagues are still standing firm with them in this vital struggle that is primarily about passenger safety.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “This referendum was entirely a matter for ASLEF and their Southern members. RMT has remained focused on the industrial and public campaign to protect the safety of the travelling public and to put access and safe operations before profits.

“RMT will now look to take that campaign into its next phase working with our sister rail unions, the wider trade union movement and the passengers who use the railway.

“RMT repeats the call to Southern to give the guarantee of a second, safety critical member of staff on their trains and to sit down with the unions in new talks around the issue of safe train dispatch.”

The issue is not just train despatch; it is also about making it possible for wheelchair users and other people with disabilities to have access to train travel. It is about making sure that in case of an accident or emergency and the train driver is unavailable — in train crashes the driver is statistically most likely to be the first casualty — there is a guard to contact emergency services and supervise the safe management of passengers. And it is about protecting passengers from theft, assault and abuse by other passengers.

The deal that Mick Whelan, the ASLEF general secretary, wanted his members to accept agreed that guards should remain on the train in principle — but with a long list of exceptions which turned that principle into an option rather than a rule.


The exceptions included absence, lateness, absence before or during a service, no alternative cover, sickness, emergency leave, delayed on services whilst passing from one job to another or on route to start a service, displaced by late running, sickness or assault whilst working, driver or OBS error where OBS is left behind, where OBS has to leave service to deal with a passenger issue or civil emergency, and so on.

ASLEF further accepted deployment of OBS will only occur in “degraded conditions,” and only if the OBS holds “relevant competency” (which is not guaranteed) they “may” then operate doors if the DOO (driver only operation) technology fails.

The union had a major upgrade of technical systems to ensure all services can operate as driver only, confirming the OBS is a temporary fix until the new technology is installed.

In a damning indictment of the potential dangers of the agreement, the deal has a clause enabling the exploration of the scope and feasibility of an indemnity scheme for drivers. In other words, it acknowledges the possibility that drivers could face criminal charges if passengers are injured or killed because of the expansion of DOO.

If the ASLEF deal had been accepted by its members it would have become a blueprint for all further deals on the railways throughout the country — rail travel would become less safe for most people and virtually impossible for people with disabilities.

The RMT last week confirmed new dates for strikes on Southern Rail, starting with a 24-hours stoppage on 22nd February. The announcement came after talks between RMT and Southern were deliberately wrecked by the company as they made a mockery of the negotiating process and chose to completely ignore the safety issues at the heart of the matter.

Prior to the announcement of the ASLEF members’ ballot, Southern Rail had introduced a new “strike breakers’ charter” to its deal with ASLEF — allowing trains to run without a guard during strikes.

The RMT responded by setting new strike dates starting from 22nd February.

Mick Cash said: “The full detail of Southern’s plan is far worse than anyone could have anticipated. This is dire news, not just for staff, but for passengers who rightly demand a safe, reliable and accessible service. RMT will not walk away from the fight for a railway that puts public safety before private profit. “It is now down to Southern/GTR to face up to their responsibilities and engage in genuine and serious talks that address our issues.”