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Southern strikes to go ahead as RMT rejects offer

Last-ditch talks between Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and RMT have fallen apart, meaning strikes on the troubled Southern service are set to go ahead on Tuesday.

GTR, Southern’s parent company, gave RMT until 12pm today to accept an eight-point offer for its implementation of driver-only operation (DOO) services, as well as a £2,000 bonus to the affected conductors.

Talks began at 10am, but RMT rejected the offer. A three-day strike will now begin on 11 October as part of a planned series of strikes before Christmas.

Charles Horton, CEO of GTR, said: “I’m deeply disappointed that the RMT leadership have rejected our offer – their counter-proposal didn’t come anywhere near our goals of modernising our train service for the benefit of passengers. All they have offered is a superficial rebadging of the conductors as on-board supervisors in name only.

“What the RMT want to do is retain their power and control by insisting that our trains cannot run under any circumstances without a conductor on board, leading to more delays and cancellations.

“I am incredibly sorry about the months of misery our passengers have suffered. Our aim is to make a significant change to put services back on track and get our passengers where they want, safely and on time.”

GTR confirmed it will now be imposing the DOO measures, where conductors will lose their power to operate doors and be replaced by an on-board supervisor (OBS).

This means that the promises in its offer, including ensuring that every train currently operated with a conductor will continue to have either a traditional conductor or a second on-board member of staff, are no longer guaranteed.

The operator added that there is a legal obligation to serve notice to employees in their existing roles and, “at the same time they will be asked to automatically transfer to the new role – if they want a job, they are guaranteed one”. GTR said some 40% of Southern’s current population of conductors will be staying in their current roles and a large portion of them have already volunteered to move into the new on-board role.

RMT said it had proposed a transitional period where the OBS role would retain all the safety competencies and requirements of the conductor. In addition, it said GTR had rejected a suggestion for conciliation service ACAS to broker the talks.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT, said: “The union is angry and disappointed that a fresh set of proposals put forward by the union today that address both our issues and the company agenda have been rejected out of hand with barely a cursory glance. The travelling public will be rightly angry that the company have kicked back in our faces a chance to resolve this long-running dispute.

“There was a real chance of getting a negotiated solution on track today but Southern have not only slammed the door on that but they have also rejected RMT’s offer to draft in ACAS immediately to try and close the gap and broker a settlement. That is scandalous.”

RMT has already held five strikes this year over the DOO dispute, contributing to widespread delays that have seen Southern forced to cancel 341 services.

GTR promised better services during the strike than it has previously provided, with a train or bus service at “nearly all” of the 156 Southern services. However, it said there would still be a “restricted service”.

For more information about the impact of the strikes on Southern services, click here.

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James Palma   06/10/2016 at 20:47

Go for it GTR. Mick Cash, you are a waste of space.

Kevinr   07/10/2016 at 08:18

Fantastic news - well done GTR. And the withdrawal of a £2k sweetener - "look what you could have won" Tops it for me. Cash/Unions - bye-bye parasites.

Chris   07/10/2016 at 09:06

So if GTR's proposal to operate a train with the driver only, when an OBS is not available, does go ahead, how will they deal with passengers who need assistance in getting on/off the train? I can not see a wheelchair user getting the ramp down themselves...

Kevinr   07/10/2016 at 11:56

Having the conductor role move towards OBS will give more time to passengers for assistance with wheelchairs, large bags etc. Having the driver operate the doors ensures a train will be available even in times when a conductor/OBS is not onboard. Surely better to provide service to the majority even if an inconvenience to a few? And yes - inconvenience should not occur to any fare paying passenger. This is why it is in the interests of GTR to maintain OBS staffing levels & why they gave staffing level commitments within their discussions with Cash. Let's not forget the significant amount of trains already operating DOO...

Paul   07/10/2016 at 14:08

Note to editors: The full detail of RMT’s proposals is as below: PROPOSALS 1. Recognising the company’s objective to move its implementation plans along, the RMT accepts that on an agreed date conductors will migrate to a new role of On Board Supervisor (OBS). 2. Recognising the RMT’s objective of retaining a second safety critical competent person on each service where it is currently required, Southern (GTR) accepts that for a defined transition period (to be agreed) the OBS role and post-holders on such services will retain all of the current competencies and requirements of a conductor and that those services will operate in the current mode, with a second safety critical and competent OBS on board all services throughout the transition period. 3. During the transition period Southern (GTR) will work jointly with RMT and representatives of train drivers to create a new set of operational processes and procedures that will be acceptable to all parties with the remit: • That those services that currently require a conductor will retain a second safety critical and competent OBS on each service that runs. • That the two train crew will jointly operate the service in a safe, efficient and reliable mode. • The role and competencies will encompass the customer service objectives of Southern (GTR). • That high levels of accessibility for all passengers including disabled, elderly, and all those that may need assistance or guidance, accessibility is a priority 4. Building on the work previously done at ACAS, a set of defined competencies will be jointly devised and agreed to enable OBS post-holders to operate trains in the new agreed mode. 5. Both parties agree that the adoption of these proposals will enable them to finalise by an agreed date the migration of conductors to the OBS role, on a jointly agreed programme and set of arrangements. These arrangements will be developed from those that have already been tabled and will ensure fairness in terms of which staff will migrate and which will remain as conductors.

John Grant   07/10/2016 at 14:15

@Chris: Trains on GN have been single-manned for decades. Station staff do the assistance; at unstaffed stations people with wheelchairs have to book 24 hours in advance, and I think in practice they get taken by taxi to the nearest staffed station.

Jerry Alderson   07/10/2016 at 16:03

If I understand correctly the intention is for the OBS to do much more than just revenue protection (and fare-related services and queries). They would help people needing extra help such as wheelchair users. Southern (GTR) is planning DOO+1 (aka DCO) not DOO. It has said that it will roster a 'plus 1' (OBS) on every train and will maintain a headcount to ensure there is cover for illness etc. The dispute has been about the train being able to operate where an OBS isn't available, which should be an exceptional circumstance. The 'elephant in the room' is that clearly one of those exceptional circumstances is industrial action. At the moment the RMT can stop the train but in future it will not be able to. Any industrial action will still have an impact both to revenue and customer experience so GTR will still have an incentive to reach agreement with the RMT in an industrial dispute, but the GTR will have a stronger hand (and the RMT a weaker one) than in the past. I understand that there is a statutory 12-week notice period hence conductors (presumably only the 60% who have not volunteered for the OBS role) have been sent a letter today (Friday 7 Oct) stating that their contract will be terminated on 31 December at which point they have the choice of a guaranteed new OBS contact or to walk away. I don't know the legal technicalities but given that the new contract does not reduce the current terms and conditions I assume that those walking away will not get any compensation as they will have been deemed to have resigned. Clarification would be useful.

Martin T   07/10/2016 at 16:26

Thanks to Paul for posting the RMT's proposals. Am I missing something, or would this not be solved if the RMT agreed that the end of the transition period would be 31 Dec 2016? What I find interestng is the RMT's tactics over Scotrail. The new Scotrail emus will not arrive until sell into 2017 but it decided to go for industrial action this year. Because Scotrail is weaker (i.e. it is taking the revenue risk unlike GTR) and capitulated to the RMT guaranteeing that the guard/conductor would continue (i.e. where not DOO at present) to close doors at 100% of all stations on 100% of all trains, with Scotrail getting the miner passenger benefit of a little more time spent with customers and reduced dwell time by allowing the driver to open the doors. Unsure if by picking off the easy prey first the RMT wanted a) GTR to copy the Scotrail deal or b) it wanted to reach a deal with Scotrail before it copied the GTR proposal. The interesting TOC is going to be Northern where DCO must be introduced on a minimum of 50% of services - doors are not operated by any of its train drivers at present so presumably agreement will need to be reached with ASLEF to have it added to their contracts.

Lutz   07/10/2016 at 18:40

It's a bit late trying push the RMT case; - the old adage of "closing ...". To a degree I sympathise with conductors, but you can not deny that they did not bring this upon themselves. Those that are left need to force the activists out of their union. As far as GTR is concerned; this has taken way too long to resolve; you need to get this closed off and quickly so that your Customers can reclaim their lives, and in some cases save their jobs.

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