Southern Rail has cancelled over 1000 trains today as drivers and conductors from two separate unions launch a new wave of industrial action on the beleaguered operator’s services.
Train drivers who belong to the ASLEF union start a ban today on working overtime shifts, the first phase of extensive industrial action set to take place over the Christmas period. Drivers have also planned a 48-hour walkout on December 13, a 24-hour walkout on December 16, and a full week’s strike from January 9-14.
Their refusal to work overtime shifts or take on any additional duties comes as Southern conductors commence a 3-day walkout called by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT).
In a statement RMT General Secretary Mike Cash said, “Our guards members on Southern Rail remain rock solid and absolutely determined in their action in defence of rail safety this morning. The union repeats its demand for Chris Grayling and his rail minister to get out of their bunker, stop the mud slinging and take up the offer from RMT for direct talks to sort out the worsening crisis on Britain’s biggest rail franchise.”
Members of the ASLEF union last month voted to strike against Southern’s plans to roll-out more driver-only trains. The change would rename conductors as ‘onboard supervisors’ and hand drivers responsibility for closing the doors, a move which unions say will compromise safety.
Southern’s parent company, Govia Thameslink Railway, GTR, has applied to the High Court for an injunction to stop ASLEF’s industrial action. The train company is arguing that the union’s plans would breach customer rights under EU law.
“The company that has lost the confidence of the travelling public, taxpayers and staff – and which should have lost its franchise by now – seeks to do anything to prevent the right of free association.” – ASLEF General Secretary Mike Whelan.”
Charles Horton, the Chief Executive of GTR, said in a statement “We have a responsibility to our customers to do all we can to protect their interests and maintain services for them. Passengers now face the prospect of 40 days of continuous industrial action by ASLEF, and, on top of months of travel misery they’ve already suffered, it is totally unacceptable.”
“The proposed industrial action called by ASLEF is unjustified, unnecessary and we believe unlawful,” said Horton.
The General Secretary of ASLEF, Mike Whelan said: “Once again, we see that GTR/Southern is a company desperate to seek to prevent the voice of their put-upon employees being heard. The company that has lost the confidence of the travelling public, taxpayers and staff – and which should have lost its franchise by now – seeks to do anything to prevent the right of free association.”
“The government will not condemn the tactics as the government created the situation and is using taxpayers’ money to fund them,” Whelan said. “It is time, frankly, for the minister to come clean and admit that the Department for Transport (DfT) is behind all the hurt, the pain, and the problems on Southern.”
“We will continue to campaign and, if necessary, fight for the safety of our railway and the safety of passengers,” he said. “We feel sorry for all those impacted – unlike the DfT and the company. I would urge everyone to look at the tactics being maliciously employed and then decide to support those not doing this for financial gain but for the long term good of everyone.”