October 21, 2017

Southern rail strike enters second day as Acas talks start

takeSouthern rail passengers are facing a second day of strike travel chaos amid hopes of a resolution to the dispute over who should operate train doors.
Talks are being held between the rail firm and the drivers’ union Aslef at the conciliation service, Acas.
However, the RMT, also involved in the dispute, said leader Mick Cash had been barred from taking part in the talks.
The rail company said no Southern trains would operate on Wednesday and advised passengers not to travel.
‘State of limbo’
Mr Cash said the RMT, which represents conductors, had been expecting discussions but instead “have had the door slammed in our faces”.
“Southern rail were fully aware last night that I would be attending the talks this morning at Acas alongside our Aslef colleagues.
“This morning, on arrival for the talks, I was told that I would not allowed to take part by representatives from the company.
“RMT is furious at the complete contempt that has been shown to us by Southern rail this morning which leaves us in a state of limbo when we should all be around the table thrashing out the issues that have led to the current action,” he said.
Nick Brown, chief operating officer of Southern’s parent company, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), said he had told Mr Cash they would be happy to meet him at Acas later in the day “to talk about any new proposals he has to try and end the conductors’ dispute”.
“I also asked him to call off their programme of strikes planned for Christmas and new year,” he said.
GTR said Aslef represented nearly 1,000 Southern drivers, while the RMT represented only 12.
and “get a grip”.
On Tuesday, the government said it may consider banning strikes on the railways.
A limited Gatwick Express shuttle service to and from London Victoria is operating every 30 minutes and Thameslink is operating a normal timetable.
The 48-hour strike by members of the drivers’ union Aslef over the introduction of driver-only trains is due to end at midnight.
Southern was forced to cancel more than 2,200 services on Tuesday, disrupting hundreds of thousands of passengers.
A further 24-hour strike is planned for Friday.
GTR has advised customers not to travel on the dates affected by the drivers’ strike, and to expect disruption every day until further notice because of an overtime ban.
The RMT union, which has been staging separate strikes since April over changes to the role of conductors, is also planning further stoppages either side of Christmas.
This dispute is a particularly tricky one to crack, not least because of the unique way the Southern franchise works.
The government pays Govia Thameslink billions of pounds to run Southern, but keeps all the money raised from tickets itself.
It’s an unusual arrangement which came about because disruption from engineering works at London Bridge posed a big financial risk to any train company taking on the Southern routes.
What it also means is that the government has significant influence on the contract and it is understood to be very keen to push through Driver Only Operation (DOO).
With the loss of revenue on tickets, thought to be £38m by the end of the year, borne by the taxpayer, Southern arguably has less incentive than other companies to end the strikes.
And on the union side, they know their action can’t stop the rollout of DOO on Southern, which will actually be complete in a couple of weeks’ time.
But they don’t agree with it and really want it reversed, so there is no deadline after which their industrial action becomes redundant.
Add this to the fact that the government won’t be in the room at Acas and it looks like it could be pretty tough to get a resolution.
On Tuesday transport secretary Chris Grayling dubbed the action a “deliberate act of militancy” and claimed Aslef had warned him to expect “10 years of industrial action” at a meeting in September.
He further accused unions of “deliberately trying to bring [the railway] to its knees” and dismissed claims the strike was about commuter safety as “palpable nonsense”.
Mr Khan said Mr Grayling was “playing party politics with commuters”.
“I share the anger and frustration of commuters. My message to the trade unions is get back round the table and sort this out through Acas,” the London Mayor said.
“My message to the government is ‘get your head out of the sand, get a grip and let’s sort this out’.
“Govia has been taking the government and passengers for a ride now for years.”
“It can’t be beyond the wit of the government to get their head out of the sand and get a grip.”

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