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Aslef offers to suspend Southern strikes for talks

The railway drivers’ union Aslef has offered to suspend its industrial action on Southern rail next week if the operator agrees to new talks hosted by the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

Drivers were due to strike next week on 24, 25 and 27 January as Aslef and RMT continue their dispute with Southern over its proposed changes to the roles of guards on driver-only operated (DOO) trains as RMT has done since last April.

The news has come as a boon to Southern’s beleaguered owner Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) who have “warmly welcomed” the decision to suspend the strikes.

Mick Whelan, Aslef’s general secretary, said that he is “proposing a new process to try and find a resolution to our industrial dispute with Southern rail”, in which Aslef and Southern should “engage in intensive talks under the auspices of the TUC as soon as possible”.

“Given the implications of this dispute for the wider railway industry, I am also asking the secretary of state for transport to support this new process,” Whelan’s statement added.

“Aslef believes that the best way to resolve the dispute at Southern is for all parties to engage in meaningful talks – without preconditions – aimed at finding an agreed way forward.”

The TUC confirmed that talks between Aslef and Southern are due to be held at TUC Congress house starting tomorrow.

The talks will be 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.

“We are committed to finding a fair solution to this dispute,” O’Grady and Meadows said in a joint statement. “We are pleased that all parties have agreed to meet for meaningful talks.”

GTR “warmly welcomed” the decision, saying that it has always made clear its willingness to engage in meaningful talks with Aslef to resolve its dispute.

“This is an important and significant development for the travelling public and the regional economy and our focus and efforts now will be on productive talks with the union and trying to find a solution and a way forward,” said Charles Horton, GTR’s chief executive.

“We are grateful to Frances O’Grady and Andy Meadows for agreeing to chair jointly this important new round of talks and they have our unequivocal endorsement and support.”

GTR has confirmed that it will make no further comment until talks have concluded in line with the agreement made between the operator and the unions.

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Harry Perkins   17/01/2017 at 12:49

Interesting development. Sound like something may be going on behind the scenes so to speak. Andy Meadows is a former East Coast bigwig and is viewed as a moderate by Rail Unions ,maybe a clever move to try and appease Aslef .

Sassan   17/01/2017 at 13:09

Perhaps requesting Meadows as co-chair suggests that the DfT intends to end the dispute with a compromise arrangement similar to that on Scotrail?

Gary Packer   17/01/2017 at 13:40

Whilst calling off the strike days and any talks must be good the TUC is hardly an independent body, obviously why the DFT demanded that someone from the management side (Andy Meadows) was there as well. Even then seems somewhat like getting an arsonist to host a fire prevention event

Steve B Collins   17/01/2017 at 20:12

Re: "the DfT intends to end the dispute with a compromise arrangement similar to that on Scotrail?" There was no compromise. It was a total capitulation by ScotRail. Passengers and the railway will suffer for years (perhaps decades) as a result. Drivers will in future open the doors allowing passengers to alight a few seconds earlier and therefore passengers baord a few seconds earlier. ScotRail passengers will still lose time by the conductor closing the door - a process several seconds slower than if done by the driver - and customer service will be much poorer than if the conductor devoted all of the time ro passengers. Fewer peope will be sold tickets and fewer evaders will be caught. These talks may reveal whether ASLEF's primary concern is about the drivers (i.e. discussions around improving the cameras and screens so that the driver is happy) or if it is really about saving the RMT and its boss, Mick Cash. If it is the latter then there is no chance of the ASLEF strikes ending soon, unless drivers decide they do not want to lose pay to help conductors and call it a day.

Paul B   17/01/2017 at 20:45

The Scotrail solution is nothing other than the arrangement in place on Southern before everything kicked off, so accepting that means GTR / DfT backing down and I can't see that happening. ASLEF's sudden suspension of all action may, though, be related to today's publication of a letter from 2011 accepting DOO on Thameslink (as well as the recent introduction of 12-car DOO on c2c). They may feel that a more "nuanced" approach is required now

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