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Aslef and GTR provisionally agree to end Southern row

Rail drivers’ union Aslef and Southern owners Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) have reached a provisional agreement which could potentially end the pair’s long-running dispute and relieve pressure on the beleaguered franchise.

Aslef, alongside fellow rail union RMT, have spent recent months at loggerheads with Southern over its proposals to introduce driver-only operated (DOO) trains, leading to repeated strikes and misery for commuters.

The union’s estimated 930 drivers working on Southern will now vote in a referendum on whether or not to accept GTR’s fresh deal, with the ballot due to close on 16 February.

Aslef’s general secretary Mick Whelan welcomed the initial agreement, calling it a “significant step forward” in addressing the union’s concerns about the safety of DOO.

“Aslef has never been against changes to working methods; rather we believe any changes should be negotiated through agreed procedures,” said Whelan.

“I am confident this this deal can provide a safer and appropriately staffed railway for passengers on Southern Rail and I will be recommending it to our members.”

For the past two weeks Aslef and GTR have been locked in talks at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) HQ Congress House, ever since the union offered to suspend its strikes planned for late January.

The talks were jointly chaired by the TUC’s general secretary Frances O’Grady and Andy Meadows, Abellio UK’s HR director, the latter at the request of the DfT.

Nick Brown, GTR’s chief operating officer, also praised the provisional agreement, calling it “good news for passengers, the regional economy and staff”.

“Our aim has always been to reach agreement with the unions on our proposals and we’re delighted to have secured a deal today with Aslef to end their dispute,” Brown added. “After the misery and disruption to people’s work and family lives, we are pleased we can start to move forward and deliver a better railway for the travelling public.”

Although a happy ending to GTR’s dispute with Aslef is apparently in sight, the operator’s row with RMT continues, as the union was not invited to the TUC talks and its drivers continue to strike. However, RMT’s industrial action is now having minimal impact on Southern services.

Following the announcement of its agreement with Aslef, a GTR spokesperson emphasised that the operator is “ready, willing and able to meet with the RMT” to begin resolving their own dispute.

Yet Mick Cash, the union’s general secretary, insisted today that because RMT was not party to the TUC talks, they have “no details whatsoever” on the deal that has been agreed.

“Consequently, we have no information on what impact any deal that may have been reached will have on nearly 500 guards who have been involved in an industrial dispute over safety for the best part of a year. That is an appalling way for that group of workers to be treated,” Cash argued.

“RMT’s dispute remains on. The union is aware of the offer of further talks from the company. Once we have the full details of the deal that has been struck today, and an assurance that the terms of reference of those talks will focus on the retention of a second safety-critical member of staff on Southern services, we can agree an immediate date for negotiations to commence.”

Southern must also now start to address its reputational damage, as it was recently named the worst TOC in the country for customer satisfaction in the National Transport Passenger Survey.

Meanwhile, the DfT faces parliamentary criticism and even a legal claim from commuters over how it has handled its franchising contract with GTR.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


Martin T   02/02/2017 at 22:40

ASLEF have behaved more honourably (towards passengers) than some people expected. My fear was that ASLEF would support RMT to the death. Clearly they are not doing so. Mick Cash's future must now be in question. The much more experienced Bob Crow would never have made the dispute so high profile and backed himself into a corner as Cash has done. The future will be interesting...will ASLEF do a deal with Northern? As soon as the new DCO trains are in use RMT will have lost its bargaining power on 50% of services.

Lutz   03/02/2017 at 18:16

So they went on strike over a process - sounds like they changed their reasons for going on strike in the first place. We need legislation to make this strikes illegal.

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