A new three-day strike by conductors (guards) on Southern rail services began on Tuesday (11 October), despite the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union advising its members to accept new contracts and a last-minute threat of legal action.
Union general secretary Mick Cash said on Tuesday: ‘RMT can confirm the receipt of a formal legal challenge from Southern Rail in the guards safety dispute. It is appaling that rather than sitting down with us at ACAS today to seek a resolution the company have chosen to run to the courts under the cloak of the anti-union laws.
‘The union intends to continue with the planned action and is examining the details of the paperwork. We will issue a further statement in due course.’
Following the breakdown of talks last week and the expiry of a deadline set by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which runs Southern, GTR said it would issue letters terminating the contracts of some conductors.
The RMT then advised its members to accept new contracts transferring them to the role of on board supervisors.
Charles Horton, CEO of GTR said: ‘to go ahead with these strikes just days after telling conductors to accept our offer sets new standards in union militancy. They don't care that hundreds of thousands of commuters will face yet more travel misery this week; it's clear this is all about the union trying to hang on to power and control.
‘We're guaranteeing a job till 2021 and no loss of pay or overtime. Our aim is to modernise our operations to give passengers better customer service with a dedicated second safety-trained member of staff working each and every train where we currently have a conductor and the driver in sole control operating the train.’
Although the dispute is ostensibly about driver only operation, the RMT has proposed a solution based on its recent deal with Scotrail, under which all trains that have conductor would continue to have one.
However, GTR’s offer to settle the dispute, which it has now withdrawn, included list of ‘exceptional’ circumstances under which it would run trains without a second member of staff.
Despite a request from Transport Network, GTR has again declined to make this list available.
Even without industrial action, the company has for months been unable to run its normal timetable because of a lack of conductors, citing 'unprecedented levels of train crew sickness' and 'unwillingness among others to work overtime'.