Rail unions should call off Southern strikes and ‘give people their lives back’, Lewes’ MP has urged.
Both the RMT union representing conductors and train drivers’ union ASLEF have been locked in a bitter dispute with rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway over plans to extend driver-only operation to Southern services.
This would mean that drivers would open and close train doors rather than conductors, who are set to become on-board supervisors, and both unions have raised safety concerns about the potential loss of a second safety-critical member of staff on services.
But a report by Ian Prosser, HM’s chief inspector of railways and director of rail safety at the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), concluded that the proposed form of train dispatch ‘meets legal requirements and can be operated safely’.
The findings were labelled a ‘complete whitewash’ by the RMT but Lewes MP Maria Caulfield has called on ASLEF to call off strikes planned for both next week and late January.
She said: “I have spoken to all parties in a bid to bring this dispute to a close, however, the key argument that has been made again and again by the unions has been based on safety.
“This independent report clearly states that DOO is safe, and therefore one has to ask why the strikes will continue to go ahead, causing yet more misery for rail users, and their families, across my constituency of Lewes.
“The transport secretary has made it clear in his letter that he is well aware of the long running poor performance on the Southern network, and will be tackling the franchise once current dispute needs are closed.
“I therefore ask again that the unions call off the strikes and give people their lives back.”
In his letter to MPs, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “I am really sorry that this dispute continues to disrupt your constituents. I have suggested a whole range of different ways to resolve the dispute to GTR and the unions, but so far the unions have refused to accept any of them.
“The fact that this is a strike that has been ruled as legal by the courts also makes it difficult to force a resolution.
“Since the independent regulator has now stated that there is no safety issue, and since no one is losing their job or losing any money, the unions really now need to explain properly to everyone why they are causing so much damage to so many people’s lives.”
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