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Southern release figures on ‘remarkable’ sickness absences following strike

Recent delays on the Southern line have been caused by an unusually high rate of conductor absence due to sickness that coincided with the current strikes, according to new figures from the company.

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), Southern’s parent company, said today that it has had to cancel an average of 83 services a day due to 1,066 days of conductor absence in the past 32 days.

In the two weeks prior to the beginning of conductor strikes on 26 April, there was an average of 23 conductors off sick every day. In the two weeks after the strike, the number reached 40, and is now at 45.

In the last month, 74 conductors have had at least one day of sickness absence, amounting to one in six conductors having had a day’s sickness.

A GTR spokesperson said: “We would not usually release such information, but passengers deserve to know the reasons behind the unusually high level of train cancellations they are presently experiencing.

“For those conductors who are ill the company is offering all the support we are able to and working out how they can get back to work. But these figures show a remarkable and unprecedented level of sickness absence which commenced at the time of the first strike. We are presently looking into what steps can be taken to investigate this deterioration in the health of conductors across the south of England.”

Conductor absence

GTR have not been able to reach an agreement with RMT, the union leading the strikes, in the dispute over the introduction of driver-operated only (DOO) trains, where the conductor does not have the power to open the doors.

Yesterday RMT blamed the continuing delays on GTR not hiring enough staff to cover shifts. RTM contacted RMT for a statement in response to the new figures, but they did not reply at the time of publication.

In a separate move, London Underground engineers voted in favour of striking in an RMT ballot yesterday meaning that the introduction of the Night Tube could be further delayed.

(Top image c. Dominic Lipinski from PA Wire. Graph c. GTR)

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Neil Palmer   25/05/2016 at 19:44

Oh dear, what will we do if all the guards catch this dreaded sickness. I hope the RMT is helping fund medical research into the cause of this epidemic. 83 services a day cancelled due to sick guards so far. If ONLY there were a way to run trains without them! Seriously, the RMT leadership are so stupid they're providing even more ammunition to those arguing for DOO.

Manek Dubash   28/05/2016 at 09:58

It's a well-documented phenomenon over decades that organisations with poor industrial relations - which are the responsibility of management, since that's why (they tell us) they get paid so much - tends to lead to higher levels of absenteeism of all sorts, including sickness. Once the loyalty that used to keep people coming to work even when they don't feel well is gone, it's hard to win it back. And right now, I suspect that GTR have scraped the bottom of the loyalty barrel, so conductors won't feel like coming to work if they're a bit poorly. This is a management problem and they need to do something about it. However, whether they have the flexibility to do so - since GTR is not a franchise but a concession whose policies are effectively made by DaFT and ORR - remains to be seen.

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