Talks between drivers’ union ASLEF and Southern rail owner GTR have ended in bitter recrimination, raising the prospect of yet more disruption across the network.
GTR said the drivers' union turned down an offer that would see members earn a reported £75,000 a year. However the union claimed this was misleading as this includes overtime work that it suggested the company was unlikely to guarantee.
ASLEF demanded GTR be stripped of its franchise. The Department for Transport (DfT) has been considering since late last year whether GTR/Southern is in breach of its franchise obligations, including considering GTR’s claim of ‘force majeure’ (exceptional circumstances).
A DfT spokesperson told Transport Network that a decision would be made ‘in due course’.
Rail expert Christian Wolmar told Transport Network: ‘The Government has been reluctant to call time on GTR/Southern because ministers know they are partly responsible for the chaos because of conditions it imposed on the franchisee. That is why the whole issue of the clear incompetence of the franchisee has been dodged.’
As Transport Network reported, discussions aimed at ending a dispute over driver only operation, which had also included pay negotiations, ended last week without agreement.
GTR said ASLEF had notified it last week that an overtime ban, which had been suspended, will start on 29 June. This is likely to result in more disruption to services due to GTR's reliance on overtime work.
For its part, GTR has ended a temporary agreement to cancel some trains if no second member of staff is available.
A spokesman for GTR said: ‘The ASLEF leadership has twice accepted the extension of driver-controlled operation and asked us this time to package it up with a pay deal.
‘We've made a very generous offer that in four years would take a driver's base salary to £60,683 for the existing 35-hour, four-day week, so we find this threat of an overtime ban surprising and extremely disappointing.'
The Evening Standard reported offers made to the union would see drivers earning £75,000 a year, including overtime.
ASELF general secretary Mick Whelan reacted furiously to the suggestion.
He said: ‘It is indefensible that GTR/Southern and the inept Department for Transport continue to peddle misinformation and attack those whose goodwill they rely on to run their services.'
He added that GTR has – without censure from the DfT – kept driver numbers artificially low and relied on drivers working voluntary overtime to run at least 25% of its services, while the union was pushing for 'full employment to help deliver a first class public service’.
Mr Whelan said: ‘I’m quite sure that if we sought a guarantee of these payments it would not be forthcoming. We are disgusted and will be asking for GTR/Southern to be stripped of the franchise as all stakeholders, employees, the travelling public, and taxpayers we talk to have lost all faith in Southern Fail to deliver.’