Rail Talks Break Down

From The Guardian 15th August 2016

Talks between Southern and the RMT union aimed at settling the long-running railway dispute have broken down, meaning passengers could face renewed disruption from strikes.

A five-day strike that started last Monday was suspended after three days and both sides returned to talks at the arbitration service Acas on Thursday. But a third day of talks came to an abrupt end on Monday morning.

An Acas spokesperson said: “Acas conciliation talks have ended without the sides reaching agreement. There are no further talks planned but our services remain available.”

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which operates Southern trains, said it would press ahead with planned changes to staff roles, which were due to start being implemented next week. Conductors will no longer be responsible for closing train doors and will be rebranded as “onboard supervisors”. Unions say the move endangers safety and threatens jobs.

Angie Doll, GTR’s passenger services director, said: “We have been talking to the union for nine months now and, despite several visits to Acas, the union won’t agree a deal. Passengers will be rightly exasperated that the RMT won’t agree to what most fair-minded people would believe is an incredibly good offer.

“We have guaranteed to have a second person on as many trains as today, but the union is rigidly refusing our offer to agree a list of exceptional circumstances when we would be able to run our trains without a second staff member on board, such as during disruption to still get people home. This would create the crucial flexibility we need to ensure fewer cancelled trains for our passengers.”

However, the RMT accused Southern of rejecting a proposal that would have ensured the presence of a second person on a train and that it said would have addressed all of the company’s concerns.

The RMT general secretary, Mick Cash, said: “We had a golden opportunity in these talks to make some serious progress on the core issue of a second person on the train who would have protected the safety of passengers, delivered customer service and ensured access to services for those with disabilities or needing assistance.” He said the breakdown of the talks was a “bitter blow”.

The union’s executive was meeting on Monday afternoon to consider possible further strike action. An emergency timetable is still in place on the Southern network, with more than 300 services a day cut from the schedule, due to staff shortages. Commuter groups and opposition politicians have demanded the government strip GTR of the franchise after more than a year of delays and cancellations on one of Britain’s busiest commuter rail networks.

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