Light at the end of the tunnel? Unions suspend Southern rail summer strikes for talks with the transport secretary

 
Rebecca Smith
Southern rail has suffered months of disruption with ongoing rows with unions
Southern rail has suffered months of disruption with ongoing rows with unions (Source: Getty)

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union and train drivers' union Aslef have suspended planned August strikes on Southern rail to allow for fresh talks with transport secretary Chris Grayling.

Writing to both guards and drivers who had planned walkouts for next month, the RMT said it had noted yesterday's letter from Grayling inviting the union's general secretary Mick Cash for talks.

RMT said it will be making no further comment at this stage, as it plans the talks.

Read more: Southern rail fined £13.4m by government after poor performance

The unions have been embroiled in a long-running row over the role of the guard on Southern rail, that has caused major disruption for passengers in a year beset by delays and cancellations.

Aslef has also suspended the overtime ban it was carrying out.

RMT drivers and guards were due to strike on Tuesday 1 August, with drivers striking again on Wednesday 2 August and Friday 4 August. Aslef drivers had walkouts set for the 1, 2 and 4 August.

Earlier this month, Grayling accused senior Labour figures of stirring up unrest at Southern rail, and encouraging further industrial action.

“I’m very clear now that I think there is a direct link between the actions of the Labour party leadership in trying to cause disruption for the government this summer and the decisions to reprise industrial action,” Grayling said during a House of Commons debate over a report into the train operator's performance.

But shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said the claims were "complete and utter fantasy".

“To put it simply, the secretary of state’s militant anti-worker, anti-trade union stance has significantly worsened industrial relations and had a devastating impact on passenger services,” McDonald said of Grayling’s involvement in the troubles on Southern.

Southern was also hit by a £13.4m fine by the Department for Transport this month to fund improvements on the network. In a letter to the boss of Southern's parent firm Govia Thameslink Railway, Grayling said industrial action "does not fully explain" the poor services that passengers on the network have received.

A spokesman for GTR said today: "We are delighted on behalf of our passengers. We truly hope that a resolution can be found once and for all."

A spokesperson for the Department of Transport said:

We welcome the decision by Aslef and RMT to suspend industrial action.

The Transport secretary has repeatedly offered to meet Aslef and the RMT if they call off strike action. We look forward to discussing a solution that ensures passengers receive the high quality rail services that they deserve.

Read more: There's going to be even more summer strike action on Southern rail

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