Dispute continues as Southern/RMT talks break down

Talks between Southern and the RMT union broke down yesterday (February 14).

Nick Brown, chief operating officer of Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR, Southern’s parent company), said: “We came to today’s meeting hopeful we could find a way forward to end the RMT’s dispute, and we’re saddened it’s ended so prematurely.

“The travelling public will find the union’s obstinate refusal to engage in meaningful and constructive talks disappointing, disheartening and increasingly destructive. Over the past year the RMT has had 28 days of strikes on this one issue. We’ve seen in excess of 20,000 trains cancelled as a result, thousands of journeys disrupted, people’s work and family lives badly impacted, and the cost to the regional economy is in excess of £300 million. 

“Conductors in the RMT union transferred to the new customer service role (On-Board Supervisor) from the beginning of last month and are now operating effectively in that role. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Rail - the highest industry authority in the land - also says that drivers in sole control of the train is a safe method of operation. 

“We’ve fully implemented our modernisation programme, with the driver opening and closing the doors and a second person focused on customer service on our trains. Everyone is sick and tired of the RMT’s strikes, and their pointless and intransigent stance needs to stop - and stop now.”

Southern agreed a deal with ASLEF on February 2, following negotiations at the TUC. This includes there being a second person (OBS) on every train that previously had a conductor booked to work, including a safety-critical task to assist the driver dispatch the train, should that be necessary.  

Both parties have also agreed a list of exceptional circumstances when a train can run without an OBS, so that passengers are not inconvenienced by having a train cancelled. Drivers are currently voting on the agreement, and the result is expected tomorrow (February 16).

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT entered today’s talks in good faith, but it soon became clear that the only thing Southern was interested in was bulldozing through driver-only operation further and faster with safety and access to services not even on their agenda. That pig-headed attitude has today wrecked the talks process.

“RMT's negotiating team is furious at the way this union and its members have been treated. This is dire news not just for staff but for passengers who rightly demand a safe, reliable and accessible service.”

  • For more on this story, see RAIL 821, published on March 1.

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