RMT prepares to strike against fifth TOC, South Western

The RMT has this week extended its dispute with TOCs over driver-only operated trains to a fifth operator, South Western Railway (SWR).

The news comes a day after union leaders accused the government of “sabotaging” a deal being made between the RMT and other TOCs, and on the same week that workers are striking for two days on Merseyrail, Northern, Southern and Greater Anglia services.

More than 80% of the RMT’s membership working for SWR voted for a strike from a turnout of over 76% of all workers.

The union argues that the strike is going forward due to SWR failing to give “cast iron” assurances over the future of guards on trains.

SWR commented that it was disappointed that some of its staff had decided to take industrial action, adding: “None of us want to be in this position and any potential action will cause unnecessary disruption for the customers we serve.

“We have been clear that we plan to retain a second person on our services, as we know that our passengers value the assurance and assistance a second member of on-board staff provides. That’s why, during our franchise, we will increase the numbers of drivers and guards so we can deliver more services for passengers.”

The strike action will likely cause a headache for the new operator of the franchise First MTR, which took the reins back in August after being awarded the franchise in March.

“We aim to deliver improvements for passengers throughout the SWR franchise including new trains, quicker journeys, and earlier and later services,” an operator spokesperson added.

“Today’s announcement undermines those efforts. We urge the RMT to avoid premature strike action and work with us to deliver for our customers, and we look forward to meeting them again to discuss our future plans on 5 October as already arranged.”

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, also rued the RMT’s decision, saying: “Passengers, communities and Britain want rail companies working together to deliver a long-term plan to improve services, not needless and opportunistic attempts to disrupt lives and the economy as we have seen across the north today.

“The RMT leadership need to work in the interests of the nation and resolve these disputes.”

But Mick Cash, the union’s general secretary, stuck by his guns and argued that RMT had given repeated opportunities for First MTR to provide assurances over the future role of the guards on their trains throughout the length of the new South Western franchise.

“They have refused to give us those guarantees and it is that failure which left RMT with no option but to declare a formal dispute with the company and to conduct a ballot for action,” he stated. 

“This dispute can be easily resolved if the company are prepared to stick to existing agreements, give staff and passengers alike a guarantee of a second, safety-critical member of staff on all current services and an assurance that safety and access are the absolute priority.”

Top Image: Nick Ansell PA Wire

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PP   04/10/2017 at 12:01

Having long been a customer of SWT's suburban services, the guards were practically invisible 99% of the time and just hid in the rear cabs of trains. It really is time the role was modernised and more was done to make it about customer-facing assistance and security. I've long thought that all this is about is maintaining RMT's ability to cripple the network any time they want, rather than being serious about doing the right thing for their members, who are losing out on shedloads of money unnecessarily. The whole thing is almost certain to end very badly if they carry on the way they have, and it's high time this pointless dispute was brought to an end.

Lee   04/10/2017 at 13:08

I have to echo PP's comments. Guards on Northern services are pretty much invisible most of the time, though some do make the effort to inspect tickets now. Just one question, Is the RMT aware of what happened the NUM? Keep forcing the governments and the TOC's hand on this and you might have to start dealing with redundancies in the near future as DCO is implemented across the network regardless of the strikes. Surely it is better to work towards progress rather than against it? If you have irrefutable evidence of the safety impacts associated with DCO, present it. If you don't get it and if there is none, please stop wasting everyones time, including your members and just be honest, this is primarily about job protection with a Health & Safety justification. Continued strikes just loose public support and your members money.

Jerry Alderson   04/10/2017 at 17:40

PP wrote: "Having long been a customer of SWT's suburban services, the guards were practically invisible 99% of the time and just hid in the rear cabs of trains." I think the Greater Anglia conductors are very good. I suggest that goes back to the days when it was Anglia Railways and it was owned by a very small company, GB Railways PLC, of which I was a shareholder and met the directors each year at the AGM. They instilled customer service into the culture. So, my experience is that GA conductors do go through the trains regularly and do give a service customers. But they seem to be one of few operators that do. My experience on nearly every other operator (I use East Midlands Trains, London Midland and occasionally Cross Country) is that the staff often DO continuously 'hide' in the rear cab. They nothing for me or most other passengers. This is clearly wrong and something needs to change. Reading the GA website page about the RMT strike I note that it says "we know our customers don’t want to see their services cancelled," - indeed - "so we have spent several months training back office staff so that they can fill in for conductors." SWR has not had the luxury to spend 'months' training staff. I assume that the RMT intends to strike before they have the chance to make adequate contingencies.

Jimbo   04/10/2017 at 17:55

What I don't understand is why RMT members keep supporting these strikes? If the operator commits to keeping guards, why do the guards keep wanting to strike? All I can think of is that the guards are lazy and just want to stay in their rear cabs rather than being more customer focussed. Anyone who is an RMT member care to respond?

South West Trains   04/10/2017 at 22:00

As a current guard the concern is not actually about the doors at all. It is a belief that there should always be a second person aboard the train. not only to deal with the day to day stuff like tickets,timetables,disabled assistance,unruly passengers,delay information,vulnerable adults and children but also for crime and terror deterant. Guards spend 3 months learning routes,evacuation procedures,isolating power to the tracks, laying detonators on the line ( to stop trains), emergency calls and track circuits. Taking that second safety critical staff member off the train isn’t a step forward and once you’ve paid the driver the guards salary for doing it, it’s no cheaper either. Rmt members are supporting strike action to give the biggest possible mandate to our reps in the hope that the dispute can be avoided. Unfortunately I do fear the dft seem hell bent on breaking unions thus far no agreements have been reached at tocs under conservative control.

Andrew JG   05/10/2017 at 03:15

The Greater Anglia strikes wasn’t worth it as most guards didn’t want to strike and the strikes basically backfired. Plus the tube strikes has been called off aswell. Which is likely to recommence possibly in late October or in November or before Christmas.

PP   05/10/2017 at 08:35

South West Trains - with all due respect, I think you're being used as a pawn in a political battle, and being taken for a mug by your union. DOO has operated successfully for years, and the proposals from just about all TOCs promise to retain a second member of staff on board at the same salary, and with no redundancies. That's an extremely fair promise. The changes being asked for are reasonable ones - the role has to be more security and revenue focussed. Yes, guards can help in difficult circumstances, but on SWT suburban services, which I've used for many years, you NEVER see them. They never walk through trains and I've been in plenty of circumstances where there's been rowdy behaviour or people needing assistance and the guard is nowhere to be seen. If things don't change, and if these strikes carry on, the grade WILL be abolished completely. It seems to me that the RMT don't give a toss about you, they're far more interested in being able to cripple the network on a whim and are determined to bring a franchise down, while not caring about the money you will be losing. Change or lose your job, it's your choice. I say that as a long-time rail employee and union member.

Anonymous   05/10/2017 at 13:27

I don’t think Greater Anglia won’t have any more strikes during the last few months of 2017. But they could plan to have strikes again in 2018 which is unlikely going to happen. I could be wrong but GA guards could plan more strikes to occur next year. If that’s possible.

SPT   05/10/2017 at 14:34

Anonymous (and good job you are!) - I have seen some rubbish posted on here but you have excelled today with that last comment! Absolutely pointless... You're sounding more and more like Gwilty.....

Alan Hogg   05/10/2017 at 16:01

On the Old South West Trains on the Bournemouth Line the guards locked themselves in the rear drivers cab and were impossible to contact. When I complained about this at Bournemouth station the guy said with a sigh "yes we know." Safety role- rubbish.

Anonymous   05/10/2017 at 21:06

@SPT. Sorry? I just commented on here just to put down my thoughts.

Andrew Gwilt   05/10/2017 at 21:08

OH SHUT UP SPT. I don’t care what people say just because I speculate.

SPT   09/10/2017 at 13:20

Gwilt - if you don't care what people say, why are you rather rudely telling me to shut up? We are all entitled to our own opinions on here - even if ours often disagree with yours... so respect that (as we do having to read your waffle - and note we don't tell you to keep quiet) and don't tell folk to shut up

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