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RMT vote overwhelmingly in favour of strike against Merseyrail and Northern

RMT have today confirmed that they will take strike action against Northern and Merseyrail for their stance on driver-only operated (DOO) trains after their members voted overwhelmingly 81.8% in favour of the proposal. 

Ballots opened for Northern and Merseyrail drivers and guards on 16 and 17 February respectively. They revolve around the same issue that has caused major disruption to Southern services as TOCs propose taking guards off trains – a measure the RMT argues is unsafe for drivers and passengers, despite some industry bodies disagreeing.

Strike action will now go ahead on 13 March, the same day that RMT members working on Southern services also go on strike. 

Speaking of RMT's vote, general secetary Mick Cash said: "This ballot result sends out the clearest possible message to Merseyrail, Merseytravel and politicians across the area that RMT is prepared to stand up and fight for public safety and the guard guarantee.

"The company now has the best part of two weeks to sit down with us, address the core issues at the heart of this dispute and negotiate a settlement before the action commences.

“The union’s position on Driver Only Operation is perfectly clear. We will not agree to any introduction of DOO and will fight to retain the safety critical role of the guard and to keep a guard on the train. It is the failure of Merseyrail to give guarantees on those basic principles that has led to the current dispute and the campaign of industrial action.

He went on to say: “RMT asked Merseyrail to give the union assurances  that any new trains will have a second safety critical crew member on board and that the guard will be retained on all services. We set out clear deadlines giving the company ample time to give those assurances but the company have flatly refused to consider a guarantee of a second safety critical person on the new trains”.

“This dispute, and the industrial action announced today, were entirely preventable if the company had listened and to the unions deep-seated safety concerns, had taken them seriously and had put passenger safety before profit. The blame for the industrial action, and the disruption it will cause, lies solely at the door of Merseyrail and those who are happy to put private profits before public safety.

“Merseyrail are also completely ignoring the clear wishes of their own passengers, who overwhelmingly oppose the idea of Driver Only Operated trains on their network. That pig-headed attitude has forced the union’s hand and the idea that we would compromise on the fundamental issue of rail safety is absurd. The union remains available for meaningful talks and we would expect Merseyrail to take up that offer as a matter of urgency.”

RMT also claimed today that Northern’s managing director Alex Hynes had allegedly told press in 2014 that the company had no intentions to roll out DOO trains.

“It seems even some Northern Rail bosses doubt the wisdom of introducing DOO,” argued Cash. “This revelation means we either can’t ever believe a word Northern Rail say or it confirms the suspicion that ministers in London are calling the shots and imposing rail cuts and a damaging rail dispute on the people of the north.

“It’s time for Northern Rail to end the threat of strike action by simply saying that passengers will keep the guarantee they currently have of a guard on every train.”

Northern had previously sought to give reassurances to the union over driver-controlled operation, with a spokesperson guaranteed that the company’s focus is “on protecting the jobs and pay of our people”.

“We therefore believe RMT is very premature in starting a ballot of conductors to vote for strike action,” the operator added. “We want to agree a constructive resolution to this dispute and to continue the discussions we have started with RMT. Should any strike action go ahead, we want to reassure our customers that we are preparing pans to keep them moving.”

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Terryk   28/02/2017 at 13:04

Mick Cash has lost his battle with the Southern so now he is trying the same tactics with the Northern.

Jerry Alderson   28/02/2017 at 13:45

I note the quote from RMT: "Northern’s managing director Alex Hynes had allegedly told press in 2014 that the company had no intentions to roll out DOO trains." Firstly. Alex Hynes was MD of a different company operating the former franchise. Therefore he could only speak for the company at the time under its then contract with the DfT. Secondly there is enormoous confusion over what DOO means. It is often seen as the train having only one member of staff on board. We have got to stop using the "O" word meaning only unless that will actually be the case. Northern will be introducing DCO - driver in control of the train - and changing the conductor to an OBS on 50% of its services. Merserrail will be removing the second person on most trains for financial reasons (to fund the new trains). How about we use the terms DCO+0 and DCO+1. Anyone agree?

Jimbo   28/02/2017 at 14:54

A couple more stupid comments - "The blame for the industrial action, and the disruption it will cause, lies solely at the door of Merseyrail and those who are happy to put private profits before public safety." - isn't Merseyrail a managed contract with the local council ? Therefore, there are not any private profits. "Merseyrail are also completely ignoring the clear wishes of their own passengers..." - I thought it was RMT members who voted for industrial action, not the passengers. Unless of course most passengers are RMT members as well ... Why doesn't the press pick up on these sorts of comments ?

Matt   28/02/2017 at 15:18

As a conductor who voted for the strike, I'm not disputing if DOO trainsafely are safe or not. The fact is having a conductor on board still makes it a lot more safer. It's getting rid of jobs for the sake of getting rid of jobs, there's no valid point to it, other than private companies making a profit. Northern is owned by Arriva who is then owned by Deutsche Bahn. So all that's going to happen is we lose more jobs in Britain so that the profits will go on German railways. I've been to Germany, their rail network is amazing! So before you have a go at the strikers, think about why they are doing it.

Jimbo   28/02/2017 at 16:00

@matt - I don't blame for trying to protect your job, but surely the strike is supposed to be about "safety" not about protecting jobs. All the official safety organisations say that DOO or DCO is safe - it is just the RMT who disagrees. As for profits going to Germany, this is true and it is not a good situation, but is this the best solution to that problem ? Ignoring the fact that the profits are tiny (DB would get a better rate of return by putting the money in a bank), striking will affect thousands of passengers who just want to get to work. If you want to change the franchising system, there are better ways of doing it than striking for "safety" reasons.

Matt   28/02/2017 at 17:07

@Jimbo. Please tell me another way that a private company will take notice? The strike is about both safety and job security as I said. Official organisations have passed it safe, but it's still not AS safe as having a conductor on board. The area in which I work will not be affected by DOO trains for a very long time, if ever. Yet every one of us have voted for strike. Our jobs are not under threat, so how can we be voting just to save our jobs? We voted because we know it is a lot more safer with a conductor on board. Since this has all come into the spotlight it's amazing the amount of times as conductors we've said to each other after an incident, imagine if that was DOO. Not even the drivers want it, even with a pay rise, which says it all for me.

Huguenot   28/02/2017 at 18:27

All this to & fro argument is pointless. The fact that we have had true DOO on Thameslink since 1987, without the advanced technology that is available now, proves that it is safe. I'm all for having a second crew member on board because they can concentrate on revenue protection and if necessary deal with or report any unsocial behaviour. Let's have an agreement of no compulsory redundancies by all means, but Merseyrail and Northern must be able to continue to operate a service if the 2nd crew member doesn't turn up or if there are genuine staff shortages.

Matt   28/02/2017 at 18:41

@Huguenot with the amount of recruitment that goes on at Northern, staff shortages isn't a valid reason for cancellations even now. The sensible option is for the driver to open the doors and the conductor to close the doors. The conductor needs to stay safety critical! If anything goes wrong then they need the training to know what to do. Forget tickets, that's only ever been an extra to the main job which they have to give us commission to even entice us to do them. Our job is safety, end of

Kevinr   28/02/2017 at 19:22

Past articles / comments refer to the length of train & visibility by the driver as a safety concern. Mersey are 4 cars long..... Unions need stopping, the sooner the better.

Matt   28/02/2017 at 21:07

@Kevinr unions need stopping so that management can treat employees however they like, no rights whatsoever for the working man. Ridiculous statement.

Jimbo   28/02/2017 at 21:27

The official safety bodies have demonstrated that the presence of a guard or not has no impact on safety. In particular, Thameslink running DOO and Southern running with a guard on the same routes with similar trains prove that the guard has no benefit to safety. When you have some hard facts rather than just soundbites, then there maybe something to discuss. In the meantime, this is just a sad political play by a union scared of losing its power to stop trains. Whilst you are having your days off at reduced pay (I wish I could afford to do that), you will be forcing passengers to use less safe transport methods, mainly cars, or forcing them to use up their leave, or forcing them out of a job. A friend of mine lost his job due to the Southern strikes and there have been at least two road fatalities where people have been unable to use the trains due to strikes. Explain again how striking is supposed to ensure better safety. Personally, I think it is disgusting that the RMT is using safety to hide their political machinations, and the disrespect its members are showing to the people who pay their wages is appalling. If anyone in the RMT think they have the support of the general public support for this action, they are seriously deluded.

Matt   01/03/2017 at 11:36

@jimbo again I'll ask the same question, tell me a way to get across to private companies other than striking? Official safety boards have demonstrated that DOO is safe. They have not demonstrated that conductors have no impact on safety. It is safer with a conductor on board. That's not even up for debate. It is a full day without pay, and who said we can afford to do that? Many of us can't, but feel like it's such an important issue. Stop coming to conclusions that are way of the mark, you're starting to sound like the media. And the passengers who have spoken to me about it are in full support. As were the public down south at first. The only reason public opinion changed was because it started affecting them, which is selfish in itself. And as for the "it's our fault that people get sacked" finger pointing. No its not. If anything it says what a dire state the rest of public transport in London is. Railways can be hit by major problems at any time and they do regularly, the only reason it's highlighted now is because it's a strike instead.

Kevinr   01/03/2017 at 12:12

@Matt. My comment isn't ridiculous, paying your subs and hanging on every word the rep tells you is. Unions have crippled businesses for decades, our productivity is low compared to core competing countries. Striking hits this hard as UK PLC work in a global economy; Southern passengers recognize this (as do most) hence the loss of support when it became obvious that A) striking wasn't working and B) DOO is OK, already in use and safe. The drumbeat of death for 60's unionism is getting louder, I'd be asking for my money back....

Matt   01/03/2017 at 13:37

@kevinr union members made their own minds up about this issue because it's a no brainer. Nobody knows our job better than we do, and the responsibilities that come with it. And like I've said more than a few times, DOO is no safer than having a conductor on board. In fact there have been more incidents with DOO trains since they have been introduced. But as the media don't make a thing of that I don't blame you for not knowing. At least do a bit of research before making such a statement. On the union issue you mentioned... It makes me laugh that people are soo against unions, and then complain that rail workers are overpaid. News flash, I get paid just above the national average, and that is thanks to the unions!! Not to mention the RMT campaign for other areas of employment too, last month they were out in Newcastle in support of NHS workers. Take away the unions and our government will be rubbing their hands. I have to give it to them, all they want is for the public to turn on the unions so that they have the freedom to treat workers how they like. And puppets like you are doing them a huge favour. The only question that needs to be asked is how long will the public put up with continued cuts and job losses while the back benches of parliament fill their back pockets.

Mikeyb   01/03/2017 at 21:10

@Matt. As a union member, can you please answer the following: 1. If other rail franchises that have already become DOO (WITH UNION AGREEMENT) are considered unsafe, why have ASLEF not withdrawn their labour until guards are reinstated? 2. Why did the RMT agree to DOO on those other services without prolonged strike action, as has happened on Southern?

Matt   01/03/2017 at 23:18

@Mikeyb 1. As I've said before, my opinion isn't that DOO isn't safe, it's that it's a lot safer with a conductor on board. I concede that the union has come at it from the wrong angle in saying DOO isn't safe at all. It has been passed as safe, but with many flaws which haven't been highlighted at all. This is a timely reminder of just one of the things which wouldn't happen with a conductor on board... 2. I can't comment for other companies but southern and northern are the first major companies which have services far and wide that they are trying to bring it in on in the UK.

Dean   03/03/2017 at 11:57

Just like to say Matt, you are a real credit to your job and its obvious your just trying to keep that job! Love people these days can't ever see the agenda in our terrible press. If you do actually research who has passed DOO operation as safe you will see they have very convenient ties to the Tory party. Its about time people turned on our corrupt to the core politicians instead of attacking honest working people! Keep up the fantastic work and sorry you have to defend your position.

Jerry Alderson   03/03/2017 at 15:53

Something I feel certain of - as a passenger - is that conductors who close train doors have a detrimental effect on passengers on every journey. Dwell times at stations will always be longer if a conductor has to close (never mind about open) doors. It may only be a few seconds but it is definitely longer. That's because the process is more time consuming. (Whether shorter dwell times would result in shorter journeys depends on whether the timetable is revised.) A conductor whose priority is to close doors cannot have serving customers as their priority. There can only be one priority. As a regular traveller with Great Northern, which is DCO+0, I have never felt unsafe. Of course, that doesn't mean that other passengers feel the same way as I do, or that a time will not come when I feel unsafe, particularly as I get older. Fully believing that customers come first, I believe that they should have a greater role in deciding the future of the railway, free from coercion from one side's arguments. Passengers should decide how import journey times and fares against existing (historical) working practices.

Matt   03/03/2017 at 19:26

Thanks for your words of support Dean. I think it's the common case of not knowing how much we do until we are not there anymore. Our regular passengers will definately notice the difference and since I've gone back into work the last few days we received a lot of support of passengers so hopefully that will last. Jerry, it won't have any affect on how long we stand at stations. The driver will have to take just as long to close the doors. Remember they have to watch the platform, watch the signal ahead and actually drive the train at the same time. If they screw up just one of those things, there's a likely chance of something tragic happening. So getting rid of conductors and putting all the responsibilities on one person is a very risky game. Not to mention the amount of pass comms (emergency brake) that may be pulled by idiot passengers for a laugh.

Mikeyb   04/03/2017 at 16:18

Judging by the comments from Matt (indeed I completely understand his sentiments concerning overall safety) and the opposing views of others on this and other forums, I can foresee this dispute rumbling on throughout this year and, probably, beyond. In the end, unions and employers must reach a compromise because I cannot see either party "throwing in the towel".

Matt   05/03/2017 at 10:27

@mikeyb the most annoying thing is that there is a compromise. Driver opens doors, conductor shuts them. Rail companies have agreed to it in Scotland. So why rail companies can't do the same down here is all to do with greed and profit.

Andrew Gwilt   09/03/2017 at 11:01

Well with all the argument comments. I agree with Matt.

Jerry Alderson   09/03/2017 at 13:33

Matt wrote "it won't have any affect on how long we stand at stations." Firstly as far as drivers *opening* doors, is concerned it will have a massive effect. Last week I waited 29 seconds for the doors to open once we had been stationary. That was 29 seconds too long to hold me captive in the train and 29 seconds too long for boarding passengers to get out of the cold. How do I know? As a result of this dispute I have started to time how long it takes foor doors to open. I use the timer on my mobile phone. On that occasion - it was London Midland - presumably the conductor was in the process of serving a customer, such as taking a payment. I support the principle that the driver should open the doors on 100% of trains (a small number of stations may need 'n car stop' signs etc. added). When on a platform having alighted from my train I have stayed around to see howe long it takes fro the train to depart (when the signal is green and the train is due to depart). On DCO (whether DCO+0 or DCO+1 makes no difference) it is within a second or two of the last person alighting or boarding. On CDO (conductor door operation) it is never that quick - it is impossible for the conductor go get back in the train close the door and 'ding ding; that quickly. Once I saw a conductor make 'song and a dance' about the process presumanblty to make a point and that took a while. Normally with a conductor it takes at least eight seconds from the last boarding or alighting for the train to move. Now that I have a brand new mobile phone I'm going to start videoing the train arrival and departures to produce evidence of these timings. My criticism of GTR is that it seems to have no intention to speed up journeys as a result of replacing CDO with DCO+1.

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