Bexhill MP slams union over train conductor strike

Huw Merriman in plaster with a ruptured achilles SUS-151222-080527001
Huw Merriman in plaster with a ruptured achilles SUS-151222-080527001

An MP has slammed the RMT union for calling a conductors strike which saw rail services grind to a halt – and left him struggling to get to work.

Huw Merriman, MP for Bexhill and Battle, said he ‘deplored’ the decision to take strike action, which saw no Southern services running between Eastbourne and Ashford International on Wednesday (May 18).

The strike, which affected stations in the Bexhill, Rye and Hastings area, caused ‘disruption, inconvenience and delays’ says Mr Merriman. The dispute centres on Southern’s decision to change the role of guards.

The union has previously said the dispute is about safety, with the company prepared to axe guards on ‘some of the most overcrowded and potentially-dangerous services’.

RMT has accused the train operator of failing to engage in talks, while Southern claims the union refuses to entertain the idea of an ‘evolved conductor role’.

Mr Merriman says under the new role, conductors would remain on services used by his constituents on the Marshlink and Uckfield line.

He said: “I deplore the decision of the RMT to cause so much disruption for the change of role as described.

“The argument that these changes will impact passenger safety are not borne out by the experience of commuters who very rarely see their conductor unless they happen to be near the door which is being opened.

“Having commuted on Southern for the last 10 years, I can recall fewer recent examples of the conductor walking the train, engaging with passengers and rectifying difficulties.

“I therefore fully support Southern’s plans to put staff in to roles where they can better assist passengers. This will improve the experience of passengers, improve personal safety and customer information and provide a more meaningful role in the 21st century for staff.”

Mr Merriman said he had tried to engage both parties in the dispute but claims the RMT had not responded to his questions.

He added: “I very much hope that the RMT will engage in a dialogue with Southern Rail in order for these changes to be brought about without further inconvenience to passengers.

“I say this as a commuter who, being on crutches, had to make alternative plans due to the strike.”

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