Southern train drivers suspend strike ballot

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The train drivers union representing Southern staff has cancelled a ballot on strike action a day after it started.

Rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) it has been informed by union officials that consultation on industrial action which only started on Friday (November 4) has been called off for ‘technical’ reasons.

The RMT union has held a number of strikes in 2016 over plans by GTR to change the role of conductors to on-board supervisors, with several more walkouts planned between now and Christmas.

According to GTR a total of 215 Southern conductors, equating to 96 per cent, have signed up to the new OBS role, and will take up the new posts in January.

A further 222 people will remain in their existing roles as conductors on certain Southern services.

The train company says it will be also recruiting a further 100 OBS roles to work across Southern and Gatwick Express services and an advertising campaign will launch later this week.

The RMT has objected to the changes on the grounds that it could lead to the loss of a second safety critical member of staff on Southern services, with drivers opening and closing train doors in the future.

Angie Doll, Southern’s passenger services director, said: “We’re pleased that ASLEF has called off this ballot. This welcome development gives us the time and opportunity to sit down with union officials to resolve their dispute.”

GTR has also confirmed that its formal offer to the RMT to settle the dispute, which has been on the table for three months, has now been formally withdrawn and a letter confirming this was sent to Mick Cash, general secretary of the union, last Friday. GTR had warned the union at the beginning of last week that the offer would be revoked if they went ahead with any further strike action.

The union is planning another 11 days of strikes by conductors, including walkouts lasting from Thursday December 22 until Christmas Eve and then again from New Year’s Eve until Monday January 2.

Southern has now “implored” the union “to see sense and bring an end to this soap opera of strikes”.

Ms Doll added: “We’ve now got over 200 conductors signed up to the new on-board role and over the last two sets of strikes nearly a third of conductors turned up for work, disproving the union’s claims that support is rock solid.

“Drivers having sole control of the train has been shown over decades of operation to be entirely safe and 15 years of research by independent rail safety experts corroborates this. We’ll have a second member of safety-trained staff on more trains than we do today so the RMT’s arguments are baseless and vacuous.”

“The union leadership has stooped to a new low by calling strike dates over the Christmas period.”

Announcing the strike dates over the Christmas period, Mr Cash said: “This week we have seen repeated chaos on Southern Rail services that has shown once again that they are simply incapable of running safe and reliable services.

“The only obstacle to their removal from their management contract is the Government who are calling the shots and pulling the strings behind the scenes while publicly claiming the dispute is between RMT and GTR.

“It is total nonsense but is a tactic which is deliberately blocking any chance of progress. That blockage has to be cleared as matter of urgency.”

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