ASLEF train drivers have begun voting on whether to accept a deal struck between union leaders and Southern Rail bosses last week, to end the months of strikes which have brought travel misery to 300, 000 commuters.
GTR, who own Southern Rail, reached an agreement with ASLEF on Thursday February 2 after two weeks of intensive talks over the issue of driver-only operated (DOO) trains, aimed at relieving the current urgent situation and securing the support of ASLEF members.
Simon Weller, assistant general secretary of ASLEF, clarified details of the agreement in a statement earlier today, saying, “this deal guarantees a second person on Southern trains”.
But he added: “A strike is a lawful, known absence – that’s why we have a ballot and give seven days’ notice. We want to negotiate – we will do a deal – but we are not going to have new working conditions imposed.”
The question now is whether his members will accept the deal struck last week. 1,000 drivers are reported to be unhappy about it and “disappointed” with what was agreed.
ASLEF members working on Southern Rail were due to meet tonight, Tuesday February 7, at Three Bridges, following a union briefing with their representatives yesterday. Meetings will also be held in other branches.
As well as staffing levels on trains, ownership of rail services has also become an issue. ASLEF quoted from the House of Commons Transport Select Committee’s recent report on rail franchising, which raised a number of issues that had arisen in the past 20 years of franchising.
ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan said: ‘The MPs are right to say that rail franchising is no longer fit for purpose. It never was. No amount of fixing or fiddling will change an artificial market imposed on a natural monopoly where the only competition is in the bidding process itself. It’s a system which embeds short-termism and profiteering and has held the railway back for the last 20 years.”
Drivers began voting on Monday 6th February. The ballot result, which will determine whether industrial action continues or not, is expected to be announced on Friday February 17.