Southern Rail: Conductors to go on five-day strike after talks break down

James Nickerson
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The long-running dispute is centred around plans for drivers, not guards, to open and close carriage doors (Source: Southern)

​A five-day strike bringing “misery to hundreds of thousands of passengers” who use Southern Rail is to start this morning, sparking renewed calls from the London mayor for Transport for London to take control of Southern.

The strike by conductors on Southern trains will start after the RMT union said talks broke down after Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) rejected an offer to suspend industrial action.

RMT offered to suspend the strike on Friday - but only if Southern made an offer matching that of ScotRail, which it had a similar dispute with.

A spokesperson for the mayor of London said: “Thousands of Londoners and longer-distance commuters will face further disruption as a result of this strike action. The government should accept Sadiq's offer of putting a senior team from Transport for London in charge of the GTR Southern franchise until we get a permanent resolution.”

Read More: Southern is going to cut 341 trains a day

The dispute is predominantly due to GTR's plan for Southern drivers, rather than guards, to open and close carriage doors.

The strike comes after the company was forced to bring in an emergency timetable, cutting 341 services a day, or 15 per cent of its trains.

Rail Minister Paul Maynard said: “This strike action from the RMT will do nothing other than cause yet more disruption and daily misery for passengers. It is deeply disappointing that the union bosses continue to overlook the impact they are having on the travelling public, and I strongly condemn this proposed action. There have been many issues with Southern Rail in recent months – but a strike like this helps no one.”

Read more: How firms can deal with disruption caused by the Southern Rail strike

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said last week: “It was clear right from the start of these talks that there was no serious intent from Govia Thameslink to engage in genuine negotiations and that their script was being written from behind the scenes by their government paymasters.

“You would have thought they would have taken our arm off when we offered to suspend the action in return for a series of guarantees that simply mirror the proposals from ScotRail just a couple of a few days ago.

“Our action in defence of rail safety and the safety critical role of the guard now goes ahead next week and passengers caught in the middle of this wrecked process will be rightly furious that the talks that could have resolved this issue were sabotaged by Mr Wilkinson and his team from the off.”

Read more: Commuters face fresh Southern misery as union ballots members on new strikes

However, passenger service director Angie Doll said: “We have gone the extra mile with our compromise offer, but the RMT has made it clear they are not prepared to negotiate.

“They did not want to discuss the role of the On-Board Supervisor and remain rigidly opposed to evolving the role of on- board staff to focus more on customers. We are deeply disappointed and angry on behalf of our passengers at this stance, which will cause misery for our passengers and untold damage to the local economy in the southeast. The RMT’s strike is unnecessary, unacceptable and unjustified.”

Newly-appointed transport secretary Chris Grayling has also said that the problems on Southern are a priority for him, while leader Jeremy Corbyn has reaffirmed his commitment to renationalisation of the railways.

“A Labour government will take back the franchises that expire – and any that collapse – and put them into public ownership,” he said last week.

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