A three-day rail strike on Southern services next week is set to go ahead as talks to end a dispute between the rail operator and union bosses have broken down.
Staff are due to strike five times between now and Christmas for a total of 14 days in protest at rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway’s proposals to introduce on-board supervisors, which would see drivers open and close train doors.
The union has raised safety concerns over the changes, which it argues will lead to the loss of a second safety-critical member of staff on Southern services.
Both sides returned to talks today (Thursday October 6), but according to the RMT its offer, including having a transition period to allow the current guards to migrate across to the new role, was rejected by GTR.
But GTR blamed the collapse of talks on the RMT for not accepting its offer and said it would press ahead and implement the changes in the face of union opposition.
Mick Cash, general secretary at the RMT, said: “The union is angry and disappointed that a fresh set of proposals put forward by the union today that address both our issues and the company agenda have been rejected out of hand with barely a cursory glance.
“The travelling public will be rightly angry that the company have kicked back in our faces a chance to resolve this long-running dispute.
“There was a real chance of getting a negotiated solution on track today but Southern have not only slammed the door on that but they have also rejected RMT’s offer to draft in ACAS immediately to try and close the gap and broker a settlement. That is scandalous.”
However Charles Horton, chief executive of GTR, said: “I’m deeply disappointed that the RMT leadership have rejected our offer – their counter-proposal didn’t come anywhere near our goals of modernising our train service for the benefit of passengers.
“All they have offered is a superficial rebadging of the conductors as on-board supervisors in name only.
“What the RMT want to do is retain their power and control by insisting that our trains cannot run under any circumstances without a conductor on board, leading to more delays and cancellations.
“I am incredibly sorry about the months of misery our passengers have suffered. Our aim is to make a significant change to put services back on track and get our passengers where they want, safely and on time.
“We will now press ahead with our plans to modernise services to give customers what they expect and deserve – a train service fit for the 21st century.”
On Monday, GTR set a deadline of Thursday for the union to accept its latest ‘fair, clear and unambiguous’ at the same time as it launched a ‘major public information campaign’ urging passengers to ‘strike back’ on social media site Twitter and tell the RMT how they felt about disruption caused by its walkouts.
But the move immediately backfired with users calling Southern ‘beyond childish’, a ‘joke’, with others criticising their ‘ridiculous behaviour’.
Mr Cash added: “This week we have seen Southern launch a botched attempt to incite the public against their front line workforce. Today that same company have shown that they have no interest in negotiating with the staff union and are hell-bent on having a punch up with the rail workers who keep the travelling public safe.”
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