It seems from your report that our MP Huw Merriman has, like others in the Government, decided that the fault in the Southern Rail dispute is entirely on the side of the strikers. He therefore intends to break the strike by introducing a new law.
But surely in doing so he and his colleagues have renounced the Government’s opportunity to act as arbitrator for the two parties – ACAS can help the parties to talk, but has no power as an arbitrator and an arbitrator (an independent judge) is what we all need.
As a lawyer Mr Merriman must know this himself.
To come down so heavily on one side of this dispute is to ignore the evidence. Those of us who know Southern well know that the management’s past record is appalling and while they promise that no present guards will lose their job, we all doubt that any will be replaced when they leave.
The management’s excuse for the introduction of Driver Only Operated doors is that they want ‘to serve the customer better’. This claim flies in the face of their current practices.
A small example will suffice: if Southern fail to provide a train through cancellation or delay, they promise to refund the cost of your ticket. But their small print indicates they will charge £10 as an ‘administration fee’ – as if this were a kindness rather than rebating money for a service not supplied. As a concession, they promise that if you go to the ticket office immediately after the cancellation, no fee will be charged – without taking into account the fact that many of their ticket offices are closed for extended hours, again due to their not replacing staff.
On such an occasion I searched the station diligently for an application form – and found many forms offering opportunities to spend more with Southern, but none to claim a rebate.
Southern also promise that where no guards are on duty elsewhere in the country, the safety of passengers is still ensured. But anyone who has travelled on a late night train in the same carriage as troublesome or drunken passengers, knows full well how thankful they are for the attendance of a uniformed guard to keep things stable.
Should the driver be expected to take his mind off his driving, stop the train and delay the running schedule, in order just to calm things down with those who were getting a little out of hand? Would Southern welcome that on a regular basis?
And what about helping disabled and other customers on and off the train where station staff are non-existent? So much for their excuse that they want to ‘serve the customer better’.
I’m not naïve enough to assume that the unions are lily-white, but it is not a reasonable act in the light of the evidence to come down so heavily, as our MPs and Government are doing, on the side of an amateurish and self-serving company like Southern. There are arguments on both sides.
Bishop Laurie Green
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