Southern rail strikes: ‘Christmas truce in ministers’ hands’

Passengers at London Victoria railway stationImage copyright
EPA

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The continuing disruption has forced some passengers to work from home or take time off

A Christmas “truce” in the ongoing Southern rail strikes saga is in the hands of the government, the union at the centre of the dispute has said.

Commuters are facing a second day of delays in a 48-hour strike by guards over proposed changes to their roles.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said he would be willing to “thrash out a workable solution” with the government.

But Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said the unions had failed to come to the table for talks.

The RMT claimed that in three recent agreements on rail contracts the role of conductors had been retained.

‘Call off strike’

It said the arrangements cover Great Western, East Coast and TransPennine Express contracts, in addition to the deal achieved on the Scottish government’s rail contract this year.

Mr Cash said: “All we are asking is for [the government] to authorise a similar deal on its Southern rail contract. This would provide a basis for a Christmas truce.”

But the Department for Transport said the union’s claims were misleading and the three contracts did not stipulate whether services should be run with or without guards.

How services are run on these franchises is down to the individual train companies, the Department for Transport‎ added.

The Transport Secretary added: “I have reaffirmed my offer for talks with the unions if they call off strike action, but they have failed to come to the table.

“No jobs are being lost and no pay is being cut… The unions want to take the rail industry backwards and stop the roll out of new, modern trains.”

RMT union members walked out at midnight on Sunday in a dispute over guards’ roles on new trains.

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AFP/Getty Images

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Southern services have been disrupted for months because of staffing issues and strike action

Under the changes already being brought in by Southern, drivers take responsibility for opening and closing the doors and guards become on-board supervisors.

However, the union fears job cuts and has raised safety concerns.

Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said it was within the government’s “gift” to bring about a suspension of the strikes.

He added: “The government should acknowledge that the whole issue of the dispatch of trains from platforms is in need of review.

“It must take this opportunity to resolve the dispute and sort out Southern’s unacceptable service.”

A Southern spokesman said: “We invited the RMT to talk to us last week and, to show good faith and a genuine interest to find a solution, to call off their strike action.

“We’re happy to listen to their proposals to help us implement our modernisation plans with the driver in full control of the train.”

Southern said services during the strike would be “significantly disrupted” with no trains on some routes and no service after 18:00 GMT on others.

Previous RMT strikes have affected about 40% of services but Southern said an overtime ban instigated by the train drivers’ union Aslef would add to the disruption.

Image copyright
AP

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The Association of British Commuters says support is growing for its campaign to persuade ministers to intervene

Meanwhile, a study of the economic impact of the Southern dispute has put the loss in terms of Gross Domestic Produce (GDP) at around £300m.

The University of Chichester examined the impact on productivity of both the RMT and Aslef strikes – basing its calculation on the thousands of commuters who are late, missed work or have had to work from home.

Your questions on the Southern rail strikes

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Planned Southern strike dates

00:01 Saturday 31 December to 23:59 Monday 2 January (RMT conductors’ strike)

00:01 Monday 9 January to 23:59: Saturday 14 January (Aslef and RMT drivers’ strike)


Southern rail strikes: ‘Christmas truce in ministers’ hands’}

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