Southern, Aslef and RMT holding Acas talks over strikes
GTR has agreed to hold formal talks with unions at conciliation service Acas in a bid to resolve the dispute on Southern Rail that has left commuter services at a standstill.
Aslef announced the move on the first day of a 48-hour strike by its train driver members which shut down travel on one of the UK’s busiest commuter routes yesterday.
RMT also confirmed that general secretary Mick Cash will be attending talks this morning, which are understood to follow face-to-face conversations held between the three parties yesterday.
Charles Horton, chief executive of GTR, said of the plans last night: “We reached out to Aslef as we said we would and now welcome the opportunity to discuss a way forward with them.
“The travelling public are suffering misery and inconvenience and the impact on the regional economy is significant. We assure everyone we are committed to trying to find a solution to the union’s dispute.”
Despite progress being made by the parties, drivers have still gone ahead with today’s strike and a further 24-hour walkout on Friday is still likely.
The action has closed all of Southern’s 2,242 weekday services, which usually carry 300,000 passengers every day, although limited Gatwick Express and Thameslink services are still running.
Aslef, the RMT and Southern have been under increasing pressure to settle the long-running dispute over DOO trains and changes to the role of guards.
Yesterday transport secretary Chris Grayling accused the unions of a “deliberate act of militancy”, suggesting he would consider banning strikes on the railways. However, the unions have denied that the strikes are politically motivated, instead citing concerns for jobs and passenger safety.
Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: “The strikes this week are not, whatever Mr Grayling tries to suggest, politically motivated.
“We have a trade dispute with GTR Southern, and only a poor government would seek to spin it any other way.”
GTR reported that many of Southern’s usual passengers look to have chosen not to risk further disruption today by not travelling to work.
A GTR spokeswoman said: “Our stations have been a little quieter than usual because passengers have been heeding our advice not to travel.
“The services that have run (on Gatwick Express and Thameslink) have been well-used and the services that we have put in place have operated well.”
The transport secretary has come under pressure for letting the dispute reach this stage with a commuter group planning a protest march from London Victoria station to the DfT on Thursday.
UPDATE 14:19 14/12: The RMT leader Mick Cash has claimed that GTR "barred" him from conciliation talks this morning despite GTR being aware that he would be attending.
Cash said: “RMT is furious at the complete contempt that has been shown to us by Southern rail this morning, which leaves us in a state of limbo when we should all be around the table thrashing out the issues that have led to the current action.
“Our members were expecting discussions to take place today and instead we have had the door slammed in our faces. That is no way to rebuild the confidence of the workforce in the Southern management and the talks process and it is no way to reach a solution, which is what the public are crying out for.”
GTR's chief operating officer Nick Brown replied that GTR still hoped to speak with Cash later today although only Aslef has been invited to Acas initially to discuss the current drivers' strike.
UPDATE 09:45 15/12
Southern warned passengers that services would again be severely disrupted today after the Aslef strike finished.
Talks between Southern and Aslef adjourned last night and are due to resume this morning.
Angie Doll, Southern’s passenger services director, warned passengers that services would be “severely impacted” because Southern would not be able to get all trains and drivers in place after the strike ended at midnight.
She said passengers should expect “reductions and cancellations across all routes”.
Doll added that passengers should not travel again on Friday, when Aslef will go on strike again.
Southern services will be cancelled and Gatwick Express will run at intervals of half an hour instead of 15 minutes, although Thameslink services will run as normal.
Meanwhile, the ORR repeated its support for DOO as a safe method of working. A spokesperson said: “ORR has scrutinised this approach, and our inspectors are satisfied that with suitable equipment, proper procedures and competent staff in place, it is a safe method of working."
(Image c. Nick Ansell PA Wire)
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