MPs urge rail minister to help encourage end of rail dispute

Huw Merriman and Amber Rudd, pictured with former rail minister Claire Perry last year
Huw Merriman and Amber Rudd, pictured with former rail minister Claire Perry last year
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MPs from Hastings and Bexhill have urged the rail minister to step in and encourage both unions and the rail operator to work together to end the current dispute.

The RMT union is due to hold a five-day strike starting on Monday (August 8) over plans by Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs Southern services, to change the role of conductors.

A third of services in Southern’s revised timetable will be cancelled if the walkout goes ahead, which follows industrial action in April, May and June.

No Southern services would run from Hastings, St Leonards Warrior Square, Rye, Bexhill, Winchelsea, Doleham, Three Oaks, Collington, Cooden Beach, Normans Bay, Pevensey Bay, or Pevensey & Westham.

Passengers have faced months of disruption due to staff shortages while the RMT and GTR have been locked in a dispute over plans to transfer the duty of opening and closing doors on trains from conductors to drivers.

This week Amber Rudd, MP for Hastings and Rye, and Huw Merriman, MP for Bexhill and Battle, have written to the new rail minister Paul Maynard, urging the Department for Transport to encourage GTR and the RMT union to work together to find a solution to the current industrial dispute.

Ms Rudd said: “I would like to congratulate Paul Maynard on his appointment as rail minister. I look forward to working with him to achieve investment in faster and higher quality local rail services.

“However, an immediate priority must be bringing the current disruption to an end.”

“I welcome the steps taken by the new ministerial team at the Department for Transport including their meetings with the operator but I would like to see additional efforts to prevent further official and unofficial industrial action promoted by the RMT union – it is unacceptable and it has made travel unbearable for passengers over recent months.”

The MPs also used their letter to request a meeting with the minister to impress upon him the importance of finding a resolution to the situation.

Mr Merrmiman said: “Southern rail services are now at breaking point as are its customers. The current situation is totally unacceptable, both GTR and RMT must get back around the negotiating table to resolve these issues.

“It frustrates me that the RMT are now stating that this dispute is all about passenger safety and not conductor jobs, which Southern have already guaranteed. Driver Only Operation (‘DOO’) is proven to be safe in other parts of the country where it already operates so I cannot understand the RMT’s stance on this.

“It is therefore essential that the Department of Transport takes a lead role in helping to resolve this dispute and demonstrates to the RMT that DOO is safe in order to restore local rail services for the sake of rail users and the local economy.”

Ms Rudd added: “I urge the RMT to completely abandon its plans for a strike next week. This will cause a great amount of completely unnecessary stress and inconvenience for passengers.

“The union’s stated concern over the safety implications are unfounded – ORR, the safety regulator, say DOO is perfectly safe and these trains already operate on a third of the national rail network. Also, job security has already been guaranteed to the end of the current franchise.”

GTR has faced repeated calls to be stripped of its franchise, which also includes Thameslink and Gatwick Express services, something the Observer has backed.

The rail operator is also facing the prospect of industrial action on separate plans to cut the opening hours of ticket offices at railway stations across Sussex, including at Bexhill.

Both the RMT and Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association are due to ballot their members over potential strike action throughout August.

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