Unhappy rail passengers will meet with Southern bosses tonight (Tuesday) at Eastbourne Railway Station at a meeting organised by the town’s MP Caroline Ansell.
The get together is from 5.30-7.30pm and scores of disgruntled passengers are expected to attend – all unhappy at the level of service on the railway in recent months and since the start of a bitter dispute between union members and rail officials.
The meeting comes after latest talks between the RMT rail union and rail bosses broke down.
Mrs Ansell said she had spoken to rail bosses over a number of issues.
The MP said, “On recruitment, I am told this current travel chaos is not driven by a staff vacancy issue; that earlier in the year there had been problems where drivers couldn’t be deployed effectively because of historic contracts and recruitment policies; that now there is a commitment to have 200 drivers in training at any one time until the franchise expires in 2021 to ensure there will be a pool of drivers to deploy - there may be a legacy issue here as the training programme is 12 months but it seems they are up to speed on this commitment.
“On guard vacancies, 18 unfilled posts represents less than 5 per cent and it is not unusual in the industry to have spare capacity so that workers can continue to access overtime. Again I have been reassured that overtime is still available to those who took strike action and the practice of mutual shift swapping has been re-instated.
“On Southern withdrawing family passes and car parking to inconvenience workers who were ‘disrupting the lives of passengers by their strike action’, I told them I thought this was low behaviour.
“I am in communication with a number of drivers and conductors and supporting individuals. I should add that not all operatives believe strike action is at all warranted, they do not want to challenge driver operated services, instead want to help manage change.
“Regarding crew shortage notices, the response I have received is that there has been a very small number of incidents where the ‘due to crew shortage’ message on info boards was an error, some services have been cancelled in advance because of knock on effect of previous days’ disruption & displaced trains (and not whether drivers had reported in or not) but the vast number of cancellations are due to staff sickness – accounting for 1066 lost days in May; sickness call in has doubled since the initial strike action – no organisation could absorb that.
“I was a union member for all of my many years in teaching and I do not see any ideological political drive here to destroy the unions.
“ This to my mind, is the argument of last resort. It is also worth saying that whilst some union members are calling for Southern employees ‘to dig in and prepare for war’ others – in the same union – see the strike as unwarranted, do not want to resist new trains and instead, want to ‘manage change’.
“Over the course of these months I have met with the Rail Minister, GTR and the Secretary of State. I have submitted anonymised correspondence from rail users in Eastbourne & Willingdon to the Transport Select Committee.
“A new all-party parliamentary group, specifically on Southern, and its performance, is to be formed and I will contribute to its work.”
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