(From the BBC News Web Site)

Next week’s industrial action by drivers on Southern rail has been suspended ahead of fresh talks on Wednesday, the TUC has announced.

Aslef had offered to suspend the strikes if the company agreed to “engage in intensive talks”.

Drivers were due to strike for three days. The RMT union has requested to join the talks but for now its separate action planned for Monday is still on. (Thus there will still be no trains but a replacement bus service on the MarshLink on Monday)

Southern’s parent company, GTR, said it was a “significant development”.

“Efforts now will be on productive talks with the union and trying to find a solution and a way forward,” it added.

Southern rail is to restore a “full train service” from Tuesday after a union suspended industrial action, the rail firm has said.

The train drivers’ union Aslef had been due to strike for three days next week but has called off the walkouts.

Southern said rosters had already been issued and it could not run a full timetable until 24 January.

The announcement was made ahead of fresh negotiations taking place on Wednesday between Aslef and Southern.

Aslef’s strike days had been planned for 24, 25 and 27 January but the union suspended the action if the company agreed to “engage in intensive talks”.

A spokeswoman for Aslef said next week’s strikes could not now be reinstated if talks failed.

She said: “Once strikes have been called off, we can’t put them back. We would have to look at other dates if the talks fail.”

She also said the union was now awaiting the outcome of Wednesday’s discussions before commenting further.

Strike-hit Southern ranks worst for customer satisfaction

Southern rail strike: What’s it about?

How bad have Southern rail services got?

Members of the RMT union are striking in a separate row over changes to the role of conductors.

On news of the fresh talks, the RMT said it had written to the TUC requesting to take part “in the same process over the current Southern guards dispute that has been agreed with our sister union ASLEF over the drivers dispute”. It said it was awaiting a response.

It added: “In the meantime, the scheduled action remains on.”

Earlier, Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said the union and Southern should “engage in intensive talks under the auspices of the TUC as soon as possible”.

In a statement he said: “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.

“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.”

Commuters waiting for Southern trainImage copyright AFP/GETTY
Passengers have endured months of delays and cancellations on the Southern network

A Department for Transport spokesman said it welcomed Aslef’s offer, but “in order to aid this process, the Secretary for Transport has suggested that these talks be jointly chaired by Andy Meadows, group HR director at Abellio, and Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC”.

Aslef said it accepted the Department for Transport’s request for Mr Meadows to co-chair the talks.

Abellio runs both the ScotRail and Greater Anglia rail franchises.

Commuter protestImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Commuters have held protests against Southern and parent company Govia Thameslink Railway

Both Aslef and the RMT unions are in dispute with Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), over changes to the role of conductors on driver-only operated trains, amounting to Britain’s worst rail strike in 20 years.

Last week, hundreds of thousands of passengers were hit by three days of strikes by drivers.

Aslef members have also been operating an overtime ban.

The RMT union, which mostly represents conductors, has been involved in industrial action since last April.

Earlier, Southern ranked worst of all the rail firms in the country in a customer satisfaction survey, commissioned by consumer organisation Which?.

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